Text adapted from the audio file produced and provided by Francis Steffan, which records Sheng-Wei Wang's interview by the hosts of The Dr. Gianni Hayes' Radio Show on 02/27/2008 9:00-10:00 PM EST (broadcast on www.theamericanvoice.com).
Gianni: How are you tonight? Can you hear us now?
Sheng: It's my morning in Hong Kong. I feel pretty good. Yes, I hear you very clearly.
Gianni: How is Hong Kong?
Sheng: Hong Kong's unusual winter cold is almost gone and we are now welcoming the spring.
Gianni: What time is it there?
Sheng: Right now it is 10 minutes after 10 o'clock in the morning.
Gianni: Tell my listeners and my co-host Brian Davis about your book. If you don't mind, may I call you Sheng?
Gianni: Can you tell us how we can get your book, what your website is and what was your goal in writing this book?
Sheng: You can order my book China's Ascendancy: Opportunity or Threat? on-line through Amazon.com or purchase it directly from bookstores. My website is www.ChinaUSFriendship.com, which contains more detailed information.
While I was still in California, I read a lot of media reports, politicians' comments and even the U.S. government policies that presented strong rhetoric on the threat of China. I was curious about the existence of such a theory. I began to read extensively more books, reports, talked to Chinese as well as American people, and later traveled to the mainland of China many times trying to understand China's recent development and people's perception of it. After I analyzed both countries, as a Chinese American, I know well these two countries, and I felt a strong sense of responsibility to present my personal view, which is also most Chinese people's view as well as a good number of American people's view, on this, to refute the China threat theory. Through writing this book, I reexamine China's position and the U.S. position and present my findings to the American people. Also, I present a picture on how these two countries can collaborate for a better future.
Gianni: So your whole goal then is to promote good relationship between China and the United States.
Gianni: You know that there is a sense, I think, of distrust between these two countries, especially in regards to United States welfare. Because we have gone through the whole thing a couple of years now with toys coming from China containing lead paint, food has been in question and I am just beginning to wonder what... Sheng, do you think this is an intentional thing, or is it just incompetence, or the United States is misreading all these or what?
Sheng: Well, definitely it is not on purpose. But we can understand this: China's exports to the U.S. amount to about 1/3 of the U.S. imports. When you have so many goods coming into this country, inevitably you are going to find some goods that do not meet the standards. It is not a surprise. And also, Chinese goods are actually quite cheaper than other countries' goods. So when you are buying something much cheaper, you'll expect that sometimes it does not have such great quality. But on the whole, I think Chinese goods have got a very high acceptance from the American consumers. In fact, this morning I read a U.S. consumer report on goods from different countries stating that 45% of the Americans are satisfied with American goods, followed by 26 % with Chinese goods, 24 % with Japanese goods and 9% with German goods. So actually Americans like Chinese products very much in terms of the price and quality. With what you are willing to pay and what you actually get, there is a general satisfaction. Even the American auto manufacturers in Detroit sometimes have to recall problematic cars, Japan has done it and South Korea has done it. This is very common. Nobody can guarantee 100% perfection in the manufactured goods. I would not defame Chinese products because of some instances.
Gianni: Well, I see what you are saying. America is a bit wary while we are getting products now from China and I wonder whether you think that this has affected the relations between the United States and China, and in particular, American and Chinese citizens.
Sheng: I think somehow the event has been blown out of proportion. Just like the China threat rhetoric, there is a tendency about anything that China does, or is not satisfactory, to be blown out of proportion. I think this is not positive to the two countries' relationship. In the trade case, let us impose higher standards, or examine the goods more thoroughly, but let's not make it a political issue. Sometimes when people get into political issues, they get very irrational. Let us calm down to rationality and then the problem can be solved in a more positive way.
Gianni: Brian, do you want to ask something?
Brian: I would like to ask some questions. I am in the American manufacturing industry, and I know that there is very much concern. I heard your bio and learned that you were in California for a little while and you may recall that some of the slogans like the company Wal-Mart used: buy American, and made American. There is a large concern that the goods can be more cheaply made overseas with lower-wage labor and large companies are bringing in more of those goods for profit that cost American jobs. What is your view on this and what are you running into when you discuss that with the American politicians?
Sheng: I can perfectly understand how Americans could feel about many products coming from China. Let us go back to the idea of globalization, which was not proposed by China. It was actually forced to accept trade with Western powers dating back to the 1839 Opium War and the many wars after that. Now China wants to integrate itself into the world order. Globalization means free flow of capital and goods can be produced or purchased from places where manufacturers can maximize their profits with cheaper materials and labor. These places can be China, India, Vietnam, or Malaysia, etc. That is what the capitalists want. Now China is producing these cheaper products and they are shipped to the U.S. to be purchased at lower prices than what America can produce locally. Then, people here in the U.S. are complaining about job losses. I would like the American people to understand that in the globalization process, China has laid off millions and tens of millions of workers to transform its planned-market economy into a market-driven economy. But they were not blaming the Americans for making them losing jobs. I would also like to say that it is unfortunate that the American manufacturing workers have suffered in the globalization process and made to pay the price. But this problem should be on the agenda of the U.S. politicians to work out some solutions; for example, how to transform these workers to the service sector, re-educate them to adapt to the situation. Just blaming China would not help to solve the problem. If we want to continue to support globalization, then we have to find solutions.
Gianni: We have a caller. She would like to know what influenced you to write this book China's Ascendancy: Opportunity or Threat?
Sheng: I sensed a responsibility to write this book. Because after I got into the political arena, I very often read and heard about these issues concerning China. Often the Chinese government would make some statements in response to certain criticisms. But we do not hear much response from the Chinese people in the mainland on China bashing nor any books written in English by them concerning the many issues related to their own development. I felt that as a Chinese American and having lived in the U.S. for over 30 years, I know both cultures well and would be able to analyze this issue more thoroughly. In addition, my life experiences in the U.S. are not limited to just the academic world; particularly, my real experiences in confronting a low-class American problem, namely, the drug problem, have enabled me to know many phases of the American society. I took the writing of this book as my responsibility to tell both worlds how they view each other, why there have been so many conflicts, and what I can do to help out. Especially with the China threat issue, I had the curiosity to ask why, is it real or out of some motivation? In the process of searching for these answers, I educated myself, found my solution, and wanted to let other people know my findings.
Gianni: How do the Chinese view the Americans?
Sheng: Oh, there were different periods. The early American contacts with China dated back to the 18th and 19th centuries when the American priests went to China to build churches, preach the gospel and help the local people, because China was very poor and war-ridden in those days. China did not create its own religion in its civilization development. During this period, the Chinese people generally felt good about the Americans. Then at the beginning of the 20th century, America joined other Western powers and Japan invaded and partitioned China (there were eight countries). The Americans were invaders and that was of course bad. After World War II started, America joined the war near the end and fought together with China against the Japanese invasion. The Chinese were grateful to the Americans for helping out to end the Japanese aggression. But soon after World War II ended in 1945, China fell into a Civil War and America supported the Nationalists (the Kuomintang or the KMT) to fight against the Chinese Communists. The two sides held different ideologies and struggled for the power in China. In 1949, Mao Zedong in Beijing established the People's Republic of China (PRC) in the mainland, and the KMT led by Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan maintaining the name of the Republic of China (ROC). The people in Taiwan felt good about the American protection and the people in the mainland felt against the American separatists. America also went through the period of "red scare" against Communist China. In fact, the Cold War started in 1947 and the Chinese mainland and America fell into different political camps that were adversaries. In 1951, the Korean War erupted; China and North Korea formed allies to fight against the U.S. led international forces on the Korean Peninsula. This was a bitter war, which stopped with a cease-fire agreement in 1953 with no clear winner leaving Korea separated by the 38th parallel until today. China was then isolated by the international community. Only in 1971, when Dr. Henry Kissinger visited Beijing paving the way for President Richard Nixon's formal visit to China in 1972, was the bamboo curtain lifted and the PRC ended its isolation in the world. The American alliance with the PRC was used as a Cold War strategy to counterbalance the power of the Soviet Union. This was the most important diplomatic event in the PRC's modern history; it marked the beginning of China's active integration into the world order and the starting point for the Chinese people in the mainland to feel good about the Americans again. This was followed by 1979's establishment of formal U.S.-PRC diplomatic relationship and China's "open door" policy to embrace the market economy.
I think, starting from this time, the Chinese people in the mainland began to study very hard the Western culture, especially the American culture, history, and economic, political and social systems. They realized that they had a lot to learn from the American society.
Gianni: Brian you have a questioner who wants to ask a question. You have to get that in, because we have got only 25 minutes left and that's it.
Brian: Ok. Dr. Wang, we started talking globalization a little while ago before the caller called in. And I have got a question: We have been seeing that China is helping to keep the American economy afloat by buying its debt in order to keep our interest rate right, keep the monetary value in check. And there are concerns that with the things that are happening in the economy, the global economy and the monetary part of the business...hat could have repercussions even for China. And there were fears that if China ever needed to sell off the debts to protect itself from inflation, America could have a terrible economic collapse. Have you had the chance to study this a little bit to discuss it?
Sheng: Oh, yes, yes. The dollar has declined for quite some time and America has been borrowing money from China for a number of years, not only from China, but Japan and South Korea as well. You know that the Iraq War has lasted almost five years. But during all this, China did not really sell American debts in huge quantity. China has been very consistent in its position of supporting a strong dollar. In this sense, I don't see any benefit for China to sell off American debts to jeopardize the U.S. economy, because this is mutually destructive. It would be unwise. Maybe some American folks have been worried about this, but this may also be blown a bit out of proportion. I think, just like the China threat theory, the American people have become so nervous and so fearful about every step that China would do or could do. This is also the reason I want to write this book to calm the American people, because America is still the strongest, the most advanced and the richest country in the world. I don't know where all these fears suddenly come into American people's life and everything is making them fearful. This is irrational. This is out of proportion. I think the American people should adjust their mentality. Perhaps it is not possible for any country to be the strongest forever and let's accept it. And perhaps Asia is rising, and eventually there will be equilibrium between the E.U., China in Asia and America, but America would still be the strongest country. I think perhaps it is better for Americans to regard the U.S. as a normal country, not just a superpower; we can then have a normal mentality to live a normal life. If we always want to be the number one, the superpower, the strongest one, and find that it is not always possible, then we are going to have a nervous breakdown. And I think all these problems are due to an irrational mentality triggered by the Iraq War seeing no end in sight and the weakening economy. All these are worth examination, but need not make every little thing so big that we cannot live a normal life anymore.
Gianni: Oh, China is communist, do you think that is the solution to normal life?
Sheng: I don't think that China is a Communist country anymore. I would say that it is an authoritarian capitalist country. I visited China many, many times dated back to 1984; the Communist China period was very short in China's history. Somehow Marxism and Leninist Theory only worked for China during its worst, worst period when all resources and all methods failed at a time after China was partitioned by all world powers. China had a completely planned economy. But starting from 1979, the Chinese authorities already knew that they had to take a different route. And you see obviously now that China in no way can be called a communist country. Maybe ideologically there are still some guidelines; there is still the Communist Party of course. But it is not a communist society. There is no planned economy anymore.
Gianni: Do you think they have the same set of freedoms like the Americans have? The Americans are allowed to carry guns as long as they have the licenses. Americans are allowed to speak their minds without being thrown in jail.
Sheng: Maybe American can carry guns, but I don't think that is the solution for the social problems.
Gianni: Sheng, I am not saying that is the solution. But I am saying that as a free country, we have the right to do that. You can't do that in China, you can't even utter your voice in China, and you can't even practice your religion in China without being thrown in jail. And that is Communism.
Sheng: Let us clarify that a little bit. In terms of religion, I read a report, a research report, which says that over 30%, actually 33% or so of Chinese age 16 or above say that they are religious. China does not promote religion, because it does not have the tradition of promoting religion; in fact China does not have its own religion in its civilization development. There has been no real "Made in China" religion; the closest to it is Daoism, but it is not of the same form as a Western religion. Religion suppression only occurred during a short period of the Chinese governance. That is past. I go to church, I go to temples.
Gianni: I have a friend who belongs to a church in the United States. Every year, this church sends its people as missionaries to take Bibles over. These people who go over there hide their Bibles; they can't even be seen on the street with their Bibles. Many of them were thrown in jail for just carrying Bibles on the street.
Sheng: I am very surprised by that example. I went to Shanghai about two years ago and visited a teacher, an English teacher at Fudan University, who was a teacher at Harvard University for some time. She is a Chinese. She told me that she goes to church. When I talked with her, I asked exactly the same question you asked me, namely, "How is religion in China?" She replied, "Don't you know how many people go to church? So don't come tomorrow, because tomorrow is my church time." Maybe someone has told you something that happened sometime ago...
Gianni: This was last year.
Sheng: If you compare the freedom in America with that in China, of course, China is not at the same level, because the two countries have not developed along the same path. So because of this, I would hope people to read a bit more about China's history.
Gianni: Ok, let me ask you another question. Let me ask you this other question. We have a caller. Let's get the caller and then ask you that question. Caller, what is your name and where are you calling from?
Caller: I am calling from state of Vermont and my name is Isaac. My question to the guest is: How do the Chinese people perceive the Chinese government today?
Gianni: That is a good question.
Sheng: There have been surveys. Surveys say that 87% of the Chinese people support their government. There were sub-questions like how you view the economic development, etc. But on the whole it was an 87% support rate. This must be viewed based on the history of China, because, since 1839, China met with such a dark period and most troubles came from the outside. So you can imagine, once the Chinese people can have a more or less stable environment to go about their normal business, they would rally around their government. The government is far from perfect, of course, but there is at least a foundation for them to leap forward. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao once said: "China now has found its own development path."
Gianni: We are running out of time. Thank you, it is a great question.
Gianni: Sheng, let me ask you this. We were talking about...I understand what you are saying that we cannot compare freedoms. As the same token, I think that saying China is a Communist country is just as much in error. But isn't it true that the Olympic athletes have to sign an agreement not to criticize China or they could not go? To me, that is communism. That is socialism.
Sheng: If you say that China does not have as much freedom, I would agree. But to say China is still Communism because of that, I would not. Communism is a philosophy. It has nothing to do with who signs what. Perhaps we have used the term Communism in such a general and broad way that it does not have the same meaning where it started from. I would agree with you that this government still has great power and that is why I said that it is an authoritarian government. You do not expect an authoritarian government to act the same way as a free country. But it has a reason for doing so, because China is at the stage of development where it does not have a sound foundation yet. Laws have to be written, rules have to be set up, and many people do not even follow rules. It is still at the developing stage, so I would not be surprised that China set up some kind of restrictions. Also based on its past experience with foreigners and with China bashing, it is not surprising that China would set up some rules. They may look awkward to Westerners; we must be considerate and hope that China will improve. China is already much more open than 30 years ago. We ought to encourage China, not criticize each little step that it is doing, otherwise we will fall into the trap of China bashing and give Chinese government the wrong impression and that was the way Westerners treated or invaded the Chinese people before. We must not create that kind of sentiment in the Chinese people.
Gianni: Alright, we have a question here.
Brian: Dr. Wang, I actually have two questions. One is from the caller and the other one is mine. The one that the listener in the chat room wants to know about is: China desires to take Taiwan. They want to understand a bit more about China's desire of reclaiming Taiwan as part of the homeland. And I would like to talk about global government and understand how China's authoritarian government fits in the future global government that is developing around.
Sheng: These are two important questions. First, Taiwan is a small place, but the Taiwan issue is China's core issue and the utmost national issue for the Chinese people. Taiwan was lost during the period of Western power invasion and Japanese war aggression against China. So, first, recovering Taiwan and the current Olympic Games will make the Chinese people regain respect; second, recovering Taiwan will finally make the people erase that shameful history and forget that dark period of imperial powers and Western bullies. It is very important. But China now wants to recover Taiwan peacefully. I know that America has treated Taiwan as its protectorate and there have been several Taiwan Strait crises. But I think that the United States, by putting heavy military force in Asia to contain China and selling weapons to Taiwan, on the surface, may work as sending a signal to China that we are here, don't come, you'll never recover Taiwan; in fact, I think, China also gains a great deal from this U.S. policy. Why? Because America is actually giving the Chinese government that greatest support from its people. This is the way the Chinese government has succeeded in creating the strongest nationalism. It would be very easy for the Chinese government to motivate and mobilize its people around the government. Of course, the U.S. side thinks that this is the cheapest way to contain China using Taiwan as the trump card by selling weapons, gaining profit, and spending nothing else, you could easily contain China. On the other hand, China also gains a lot. I think, perhaps, none of the U.S. scholars and politicians have ever thought about this. Why can this authoritarian government hold its people so solidly and why are they willing to work so hard? Because there is still an unaccomplished historical mission waiting; and it is so easy for the Chinese government to mobilize its people's nationalism. I can be sure to tell you that 87% of the Chinese people support their government in general, but 99% of them support the recovery of Taiwan.
Gianni: Let me ask you a question. Do you think between communism and socialism, socialism is better?
Sheng: These are all words. What I think is that if a government can make people live a better life, then it is a good government, whatever the system may be called. I think that America has a capitalist system, but also has a good welfare system, and a social security and health-care system. China is trying to have a capitalist economy, but it does not have the capability yet to have a good social security, retirement and health-care system. In the process, perhaps in 20 years, it will have, and the Chinese officials are looking into these issues. They are trying to make improvements. As I said, there is no comparison between the United States and China. It will take China much time to catch up. If we add 4 or 5 times the Mexican population, especially those who have lower education levels, into the United States, perhaps America will face similar difficulties and at that point would go to the Chinese government to ask for help: What should we do? So the two countries are not at the same level. We have to give our sympathies to developing countries or African countries and offer more considerations as to why they have not been able to get to a more modern state. It is more constructive that we offer some help.
Ok, coming to your second question, China would be interested in more involvement in global affairs. I am sure there is already an existing global government and that is the United Nations (U.N.). Initially the U.N. aimed at uniting all nations to solve world problems together. However, the U.N. has been dominated by a few powerful nations. With the Iraq War, the United States did not receive approval from the U.N. to attack Iraq, nevertheless, it did. So in order to have a workable and effective global government, first, we have to demand that each participating country have equal rights and avoid that, because a country is bigger or more powerful or has more say, it can decide the agenda. If this can not be done, then it is better not to have this kind of global government, because it will not function.
Gianni: All right.
Sheng: This is my answer. Did I answer your questions?
Brian: Yes, you answered. Ok. She did answer most my questions...
Gianni: Go ahead.
Brian: Where do you see, in the next few years, the development of the U.N, China and the United States? What do you see in our future?
Sheng: I would mention that the former U.S. Secretary of State Robert Bruce Zoellick hoped that China would become a responsible stakeholder. China is already more actively involved in world affairs in this sense. I wish that China would continue to use its capability, but it still has a lot of domestic problems to solve and may not have such a free hand to get into more world affairs. But I think China will use its own philosophy, not just the Western habit of sanctions followed by military actions; sanctions and military actions have failed repeatedly. And recall how America opened China's door and integrated China into the Western world order, we have to thank Dr. Kissinger for that. It was a peaceful method, a peaceful method. So I would say that Dr. Kissinger is the greatest diplomat in American modern history. He did a great thing, and because of his bold action, today China has created the conditions for a peaceful transition towards geopolitical equilibrium rather than conflict.
Gianni: Sheng, thank you very much. Our time is up. Brian, did you have a great time?
Brian: I had a very interesting hour.
Gianni: Thank you for all the listeners. Good night!