BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Richard Bernstein, co-author of "The Coming Conflict With China," what role has Winston Lord played with our China policy and who is he?
Mr. RICHARD BERNSTEIN, AUTHOR, "THE COMING CONFLICT WITH CHINA":
Well, Winston Lord was a adviser to Henry Kissinger. He was then the American
ambassador to China up until just a few months before the Tiananmen
incident--the massacre at Tiananmen. He then, in the Bush administration, was the
main person on China and counseled the Carter adminis--in the Clinton
administration--excuse me--and counseled Clinton to take a very tough line on
human rights and, in particular, to link most favored nation trade status with
improvement in China's human rights record.
This was a disastrous policy that the Chinese beat back with ease thanks to their
ability to organize a good deal of counterveiling support especially among other
foreign policy analysts and American businessmen. Lord, then around
1964--1994, reversed his policy and admitted that the linkage had been a
mistake, and the Clinton administration dropped its efforts to pressure China on
LAMB:What was it that caused him to admit there was a mistake and was it
hard for him?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: I imagine that it was hard; it's hard for all of us to admit a
mistake, isn't it? But, clearly, the policy wasn't working. There was tremendous
opposition to it in the foreign policy establishment of this country. China also, I
think, behind the scenes, was giving some assurances to the administration that if
it did delink MFN with human rights, that we could expect some improvement in
human rights. And I think some good sense prevailed. You know, we take a
tough line on China in this book and we feel that we have been--the nation--the
United States has been somewhat sentimental and unrealistic about China in the
wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. But we do--but we ourselves do not
favor the linkage of trade status with human rights. So it was a bad policy to begin
with. It was a policy that was bad for the United States and it was bad for China.
LAMB:How bad are the Chinese when it comes to human rights?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Well, they're pretty terrible. They are probably the worst
human rights violators in the world today, certainly the only large country that is
still controlled by the old methods of Communist control, Communist tyranny. It's
a complicated picture because in--in some respects, of course, China is much
better off than it was 10 or 20 years ago; certainly 20 years ago or 30 years ago
under the Maoist period.
I first went to China in 1972, just a month after the Nixon trip. I was a kind of a
semi-Maoist graduate student going to China with a group of graduate students
that were opposed to the Vietnam War. And it took me about a day or two in
China to make my own Maoism pretty much a thing of the past. I had never
seen--until I visited North Korea some years later anyway, I had never seen the
reality of the cult of the personality, the absolute and total control of every aspect
of the individual's life and the kind of terror that you could see in somebody's
eyes. If you just stopped them on the street to ask for directions, they were afraid
that somehow, by being seen talking to a foreigner, they were going to be
accused of spying for the capitalist enemy.
Well, China, in terms of everyday life, has improved enormously. People have the
right to move around. They have the right to shape their lives and their careers in
a way that they didn't have before. And the Chinese government deserves credit
for having loosened up to that extent. But where they haven't changed is in the
area of political control, the dissemination of ideas, the press, television, the
cultural apparatus. Here, the old communist control apparatus still functions so
that about six weeks ago the State Department's annual report on human rights in
China said that China had basically locked up every dissident at large. There's not
a single dissenting figure who is either not in exile or not in prison in China today.
LAMB:You said you were a Maoist?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Well, I used the word a little loosely. I mean, a Maoist in the
sense that I believed--I mean, we're talking about the '60s now.
LAMB:Where were you?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: I was at Harvard in graduate school studying Chinese-in
a--actually, it was a joint-degree program called History in East Asian Languages
with the legendary historian of modern China, John K. Fairbank--died a few
years ago, but really created Chine--modern Chinese studies in the United States.
And it was the--it was the late '60s, early '70s. I belonged to a student group with
the rather boring name, The Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars, that was
opposed to American involvement in Vietnam. But more than that, it had, you
know, kind of starry-eyed ideas about the ability of a nation to use revolutionary
power to sweep away centuries of injustice, to create new democratic
forms--you know, kind of the standard silly stuff that people believe in when
they're students, especially in those days.
It was a little dose of reality in 1972 and then, of course, a heavier dose of reality
when I actually lived in China I lived there from '80 through '82, about three years
altogether--that I came to see what totalitarianism was really all about and didn't
like it very much.
LAMB:How many people are still in jail or prison over there after Tiananmen
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Well, the government acknowledges 3,000 political prisoners;
that is people in jail for what they loosely call counterrevolutionary crimes. These
inc--the most famous of them is Wei Jingsheng, who, as you know, spent a
15-year prison sentence because of his expression of opinion in 1978, '79 during
what's come to be called the Democracy Wall period; then was
let out of prison, met with the--with the assistant secretary for human rights in the
State Department in Peking a few months after he was released from prison--He
served his full term--and then was rearrested and resentenced to, I think, 14
more years in prison, largely because he embarrassed China with this meeting
with the State Department official.
Wang Dan, one of the leaders of the student movement in Tiananmen, is another
one of the most famous political prisoners. Almost all the free labor union activists
are in jail. There have been--there's been quite an interesting movement in some
of China's big cities, people who want to create independent labor unions in
China. Kind of ironic that in a supposedly socialist country,
they're put in jail for those efforts. Many human rights activists feel that the figure
is a lot higher than 3,000, more like 7,000 or 8,000, but I don't think that we
really have any hard information on that.
LAMB:By the way, what are you doing right now for a living?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Right now, for a living, I work for The New York Times, and
I'm a full-time book critic. I review books for the daily culture pages.
LAMB:How many times have you been to China? What's the total amount of
time you spent there?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Well, probably something over three years altogether, but
over a fairly long period of time. As I said, I went for the first time in 1972 as a
student. We had a five-week tour through China; still a very memorable
experience. I then went to China two or three times after I became the Time
magazine correspondent in Hong Kong in--from about 1975 through 1978 and
I went to China a couple of times then. I went to China in 1979. Then I was
stationed there from September 1980 until the end of--I--I'm sorry, April 1980
until the end of 1982 when I was the Time magazine bureau chief there. And I've
been back four times since then.
LAMB:When was the last time you were there?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: I was there in June, this past June, while I was looking around
and collecting impressions and trying to talk to people in connection with this
LAMB:We've got time to talk about this, but if you were to write a headline or
two out of your book, the message is what?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: The message is that, in the foreseeable future, China and the
United States are going to be rivals in the world, rivals for influence, rivals for
prestige, rivals in the balance of power in Asia, and that this rivalry is going to be
the most important rivalry in the world.
LAMB:Do you think these--the two countries will ever go to war?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: We make it very clear in the book that we think that's very
unlikely. We're not talking about that kind of rivalry and this is not a scare book.
In fact, I've been a little bit upset by some of the inte--I've seen some reviews
saying that, `Bernstein and Munro predict that there will be war between the
United States and China,' when it's simp--you know, plainly cl--it's clear in black
and white that we are not predicting that we're going to go to war. In fact, we're
predicting that we're not going to go to war. But in the li--in the next to the last
chapter, we do outline a scenario where, if the relationship is managed very
poorly and if certain conditions prevail in China and also on Taiwan, that it's not
inconceivable that the United States and China could go to war over Taiwan or
over some other issue.
LAMB:You do a whole scenario-- you--a mock possible future. How did you
two do this together? And, by the way, who is your co-author in this?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: I--well, second question first. My co-author is Ross Munro
who was a--he was the Toronto Globe and Mail correspondent in Beijing in the
late 1970s. In fact, that was before there were American journalists based in
Peking. And he was the only North American journalist in China. He was
expelled in '78--'77 or '78 when he wrote a series on human rights in China, the
first journalistic effort to penetrate the veil on human rights in China. China had
really been let off the hook on human rights violations up until that point.
I wrote a piece about Ross in Time magazine, because I was in Hong Kong then,
for Time magazine, and we became friends and we've been friends ever since. A
year or so ago, when I started talking with my publisher about writing the book, I
called Ross up to ask him what he thought of the idea. And I actually wanted to
steal some ideas from him, and during the course of that conversation, it became
clear that we really ought to collaborate. He's been following China, frankly, more
closely than I have over the last 10 years. Until very recently, he was the head of
research for the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.
LAMB:Going back to this Chapter 8: China Versus America: A War Game.
And this is what the chapter looks like. As I read it, I kept having to say to
myself, `Now this is just a game.' I mean, you--at some point, you lose track of
the fact that you're into a hypothetical. How did you go about putting this
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Well, to some extent, it was an act of imagination, although
imagination grounded in--in reality. The best way to answer the question is to go
back to the origins of the book. I was having dinner with my publisher a few
weeks after the Taiwan Strait crisis when you'll remember...
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Yeah. Alfred Knopf. You'll remember that China was
carrying out military exercises in the Taiwan Strait in an effort to intimidate Taiwan
during a presidential election there. It amounted to an informal blockade, a
short-lived blockade of Taiwan, which is--you'll note from having read the War
Game chapter--is they way we think China would most likely go about
actually trying to use military force to take Taiwan would be by not a part-time
blockade, but by a full-time blockade, which is defined in international law as an
act of war. We realized --I realized at that time that the United States then sent
two aircraft carrier task forces to the region, which is a formidable force. I mean,
it's maybe about half the American naval capacity. It was the biggest military
mobilization in Asia since the end of the Vietnam War and the biggest mobilization
involving China and the United States since the Korean War. So I said to myself
that this is--this is a very precarious and dangerous situation.
Who knows, really, how far from war we actually were at that time, whether a
reckless move by China, a feeling that they needed to achieve the glorious task of
reunification as a great patriotic duty and that they had to face down the
Americans and they decided to step up the blockade on Taiwan or to take some
action against--to try to take casualties, because they probably know that the
United States' public opinion will not tolerate large casualties in the defense of this
faraway island. If they had done something like that, it could have come to war
between the United States and China.
So that remained the scenario that we built on and we did some stud--I went to
Taiwan, I talked to people there about what their military experts think is the most
likely unfolding of events if China were to try to use force to accomplish the aim
of reunification. We talked to people in the United States. We did some reading
about China's military build-up and its capacity
and what it's projected to be over the next 10 or 12 years. And then, as you say,
we imagined a situation that--we come to the--to the point where the United
States--China has mounted a blockade. It's taken some serious military action
to--against Taiwan to try to wipe out some of its major military installations. We
got that, frankly, from people on Taiwan trying to figure what they would do if
they did attack.
And then we leave it with the president in the situation room in the White House
having to decide how to respond, whether to get into a war-what cou--are the
various options that the United States faces, and then also trying to decide what is
the--what if the United States does not intervene? What is the loss that the United
States suffers by just sitting back and letting China use military force to take
LAMB:Take a couple minutes--let's talk about numbers. How many people live
Mr. BERNSTEIN: 1.3 billion, roughly.
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Give or take 100 million or so.
LAMB:How many people live in Taiwan?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Twenty-one million.
LAMB:How many people live in--you--and you name some of the other
countries when you talk about that area--Thailand?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Oh, gee, I don't know exactly. I think it's about 60 million to
70 million in Thailand. Might be--might be a little less. I'm not sure, but
something--I mean, certainly far, far smaller than China itself.
LAMB:In a couple weeks Hong Kong goes back to do what? What--where do
they--where does it go?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Well, Hong Kong on midnight, June 30th, becomes, once
again after 150 years, part of the Chinese mainland. Hong Kong, as you know,
was taken by the British in 1840 as a result of the Opium War, so-called because
the British were trying to get the right to import opium into China freely and the
Chinese were resisting; not a--on--not a hard thing to imagine the Chinese
wanting to do. But this was the era of imperialism. The British
took control of this small, uninhabited island off the coast of China, which happen
to have the greatest deep-water port in all of Asia, and over the last 150 years it
became a great commercial, intellectual, industrial center.
This is all going to--it has the third highest foreign exchange reserves in the world.
It has six and a half million people. It's the--it has a higher per-capita income than
Britain. It's the most laissez-faire economy in the world about to be taken over by
the least laissez-faire government of the world.
LAMB:Why did the Brits give it up?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Well, technically, Hong Kong was divided into two parts
basically. There was Hong Kong Island, which was theoretically ceded to the
British in perpetuity, forever. As a result of the Boxer Rebellion of 1898, the
Chinese gave a 99-year lease to a much larger portion on the mainland called the
New Territories. The lease expires this year on June 30th, 1997.
So it was a convenient, a logical time for the Chinese and the British to start
talking about how to turn over the new territories with the expiration of the lease
in accordance with the law--with the agreement that they had signed many
At the same time, it was pointless to hold on to just Hong Kong Island and the
little tip of Hong Kong called--of mainland called Kowloon without the New
Territories. It's also politically inconsistent with the spirit of the era. So the British
and the Chinese conducted negotiations in the mid-80s that resulted in a--in an
agreement between the two sides that Hong Kong would revert to mainland
control, but that it would retain its separate system and way of life for 50 years.
LAMB:Now there's another little spot here on this map. We'll get a close-up of
it. And it's--I believe it's Portuguese...
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Yeah.
LAMB:...Macao, and you say in your book that that goes back--it's right here,
close to Hong Kong, that goes back to China when?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: That goes back next year. The Portuguese actually have been
trying to give Macao back for a long time. But the Chinese didn't want the
headache of absorbing it. They want to take care of Hong Kong first, which is a
much bigger issue. Macao is only a fraction the size of Hong Kong, a few
hundred thousand people, and Macao much less developed than Hong
Kong, much easier to absorb. Macao is really almost a--just a footnote to the
final end of colonial control in China.
LAMB:I want to read something. I know this may be difficult for you to deal
with, but I want to read it because I want to get it on the record. And it's the only
place I've seen it published and I want to get your feedback on it. This comes out
of The Weekly Standard magazine.
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Mm-hmm.
LAMB:And your co-author, Ross Munro, is who it's about. It says, `Ross
Munro is co-author with Richard Bernstein of "The Coming Conflict With China,"
a widely and respectedly--respectfully reviewed book on America's inadequate
response to the Beijing regime--regime's expansionist plans in Asia. And he has
lost his day job. Munro was director of the Asia program at Philadelphia's
Foreign Policy Research Institute. He's not talking about the circumstances
surrounding his abrupt departure from FPRI, but other people knowledgeable
about what happened say there's only--it's only because Munro's severance
package requires his silence. And those people also report that Munro was
sacked because FPRI was pressured by what his book calls The China Lobby.
Former Secretary of State Alexander Haig, a trustee of FPRI, makes a living
advising US corporations that have business interests in China. He hated the
book, we're told, and the next thing anybody knows Munro is suddenly fired.'
Would you like to comment on that?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Well, actually, I wished you hadn't asked me that, but--not
because I don't want to talk about it, but I feel since Ross is the one who is
involved, that he should be the one who mainly talks about it. But let me not avoid
The chapter that The Weekly Standard is referring to is a chapter called The
New China Lobby, in which we are quite critical of the business community and
of a number of very important, highly former senior American foreign policy
officials, including Al Haig, who have maintained a pr--a privileged relationship
with China and have profited from that relationship by being--by
serving as consultants to American business, and at the same time then in op-ed
articles and on--and commentary on television and so forth have advocated a
policy, which they may very well believe in sincerely. We don't accuse anybody
of insincerity here. But it happens to be the policy that China wants them to
advocate, so that the vision--the image of China as a largely peaceful country,
which will move towards integration into the world economy and a more
democratic system, can be achieved through a policy of full engagement.
We call Larry Eagleburger, a former secretary of state and a member of
Kissinger Associates, which does a lot of business with China, to the effect that
full engagement is the only way--is the best way to get China "back on the road
to freedom." That part, "back on the road to freedom," is a direct quote. We
think that's a kind of sentimental and silly way of looking at China's domestic
political development. We disagree with it.
Apparently--I don't know whether the China lobby put pressure on the Foreign
Policy Research Institute to fire Ross or whether PRI, which has a relationship
with Haig, undertook that measure by itself. Other than that, I can't find any fault
with The Weekly Standard account of the event that you just read.
LAMB:Let me ask you the--a couple of questions this way. If you turned on
your television set and you saw Henry Kissinger on "Nightline" about to be
interviewed on China, what would you first say to yourself as you watched that?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Well, having written the book, I would wonder whether
Kissinger was going to be presented as an expert on foreign affairs, as a former
secretary of state only, or if he was also going to be identified as a businessman
who makes hundreds of thousands and probably millions of dollars consulting on
China and whether he would be asked whether he feels that the statements that
he makes on China are in any way influenced by his need to
continue to have access to the regime at very high levels. That--that's what I
would ask myself when I--when I see Kissinger. Then I would listen to what he
has to say, because I think that what he has to say is also interesting and--and
LAMB:What if you saw Al Haig sitting there?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Well, I would ask the same question. I would want to ask
Haig why when the--within months of the Tiananmen massacre, he was in China
clinking glasses and friendly toasts with Li Peng, the prime minister who
engineered the military crackdown on the students in Tiananmen and whether he
doesn't think that that was sucking up to the dictators in Beijing, whether--at least
he could have let a decent interval go by.
I'd want to know whether t--how much their access to top leaders is important
for the money that they make. The New York Times reported--sorry, I forgot the
name of-he--Haig represents United Technologies and another company
that--whose name I don't remember. It's in there. The other company, according
to The New York Times, paid him $600,000 as a consultant.
LAMB:It was Signal and Control Group PLC.
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Yeah. That's it. Signal and Control Group PLC paid him
$600,000. You know, one of the things that we did in this chapter, which I am
quite pleased with, is compare the c--the current China lobby with the old
tradition of the Friends Of China--what were always called the Friends Of China.
In the old days, even before the Communists under Mao took power, there was
a small group of ideologically committed American journalists, mostly journalists,
who had again special access to the top Chinese leadership. Edgar Snow is the
most famous of them; wrote a really quite important book called "Red Star over
China" in the late 1930s, was able to visit the Communists in their base area--the
revolutionary base area in the northwest of
China. There are other people who are in that same category: Agnes Smedley,
Han Su Yen, a few others.
All the way up through the '60s these were the people who had practically a
monopoly on access to China. They were the only people who really could
even--only Americans and in some cases the only We--Western journalists who
could go to China at all. And, obviously, their continued ability to get visas and to
get meetings with the top leaders was contingent on what they
said about China. China continues to use this system of rewards and punishments.
It punishes those people who don't say what they want them to say or who--or
especially who criticize them on the key issues like human rights or Taiwan or
Tibet. It denies those people visas.
We have good examples of important scholars of China who have been denied
visas because they have spoken out critically of the regime on human rights. And
then it rewards people who do--I don't want to say tow the line, but who--who
speak in a way that--that reflects favorably on the government. And those people
in the old tradition of the Friends Of China continue to get that kind of privileged
access. Privileged access in the old days meant careers in journalism. It meant the
ability to write and publish about China that was largely denied to other people
because they didn't have the ability to go to the country.
LAMB:Let me just ask you another journalism question. If you saw one of
Henry Kissinger's Los Angeles Times syndicate columns and all it said was
`Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger' and he was writing about China,
would that be fair to the public?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: No. I think that Kissinger--and this is not Kissinger's fault.
This would be the fault of the identifying organization, the LA Times or the
syn--or the--whoever runs the syndicated column. I think that he should be
identified as a former secretary of state who is now a business consultant on
LAMB:What is Kissinger's--and this is--I'm quoting from your book,
"Kissinger's America-China Society"?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: That was an organization that he created actually sometime
before Tiananmen. It--on its board of directors is a list of very important former
American government officials that basically promoted the idea of good relations
with China; normalized--fully normalized relations with China. They would host
visiting Chinese, introduce them to people in the United States. Presumably that
would happen the other way around.
There was something else that Kissinger was in the process of setting up and
cul--in conjunction with Reng Ye Ren, who is the president of the China
investment--China International Trust and Investment Corporation, which is the
state-owned merchant bank and which controls a great deal of the foreign
investment or guides a great deal of the foreign investment in China so that
Kissinger---I've--again, I'm sorry, I don't have all the details in my
head. I--some of these names tend to slip out of my mind, but I forget the name
of that initiative that Kissinger was involved in creating so the China-American
Society was more on the kind of friendly relations--promoting friendly relations
between the two people's side, and then the other was a more purely investment
opportunity. It di-it never--it fell apart after Tiananmen.
LAMB:The other members of that society were Cyrus Vance, William Rogers,
former secretary of state, Robert McFarlane, former...
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Right.
LAMB:...national security adviser, President Reagan, Zbigniew Brzezinski,
former security adviser--national security adviser to Jimmy Carter. Do you have
any other evidence that former officials--high officials in our government have
traded their access to the Chinese for money?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: No. And I'm a little uncomfortable with the way you just put
that. I mean, they don't receive money from the Chinese as far as I know.
LAMB:Who do they receive it from?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: They receive money from the bi--American companies for
whom they perform consulting services. So it isn't a matter of anybody
receiving--that I know of, receiving payoffs from the China--in exchange for
op-ed pieces or commentary favoring full normalization of relations. By full
normalization of relations, by the way, I'm talking about permanent most favored
nation treaty status, advocacy of China's entry into the World Trade
Organization, a loosening of some of the technology controls that prohibit
American companies from exporting certain kinds of items to China. These are
the things that the--that--what we call the new China lobby generally favor.
Peking also favors those things.
They also tend to portray China as a--still a rather weak defensive country, one
whose interests co--coincide with those of the United States and is, therefore, in
no way a threat to American interests. And they also portray China as a country
that is most likely to change and become more democratic as we engage it more
fully, especially as we engage it more fully economically.
They may not, in fact, be wrong. We're talking about the future here.
I think that they're wrong, and I think that they ignore a great deal of evidence
about what China has been up to, what China's historic ambitions are, what
China's nature is, what the very nature of great power rivalry is. So I disagree
with them on that. But I don't think that their--that their point of view is
illegitimate. I think that what's illegitimate or what's troubling is the way China
rewards those people by giving them the kind of access that then enables them to
make profits by consulting with American companies that wish to do businesss in
LAMB:You have a paragraph in here about--`In 1994, after Secretary of State
Warren Christopher's unsuccessful trip to Beijing, during which his demands for
human rights concessions from the Chinese were rebuffed, Senator Ernest
Hollings told him at a Senate hearing, "Before you even landed in Beijing, the K
Street crowd down here of lawyers, consultants and special reps told the
Chinese, `Don't worry about him.'"' What's the K Street crowd?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: The K Street--the street here in Washington where a lot of
the lobbying organizations have their offices. There's--again, we mentioned
several of the organizations in the book, most importantly something called the
China Normalization Initiative, which operates out of the Boeing Corporation's
lobbying office in--in Washington and includes companies like Motorola, Allied
Signal, a couple of others. Again, I don't have the full list in my-- head, but it's in
there--in the book.
This is a--these are people who--groups that have mobilized money and
resources to influence Congress and the public along the lines that I just
mentioned--permanent delinking of most favored nation status, entry into the
World Trade Organization for China--and the general view that the United States
cannot sacrifice its economic interests in this very important market in the future.
LAMB:You quote James Lilley. Who is he?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: James Lilley is a former high-ranking CIA official and a
former ambassador to China in the Bush Administration.
LAMB:So--he said, `If a consultant wants to get a competitive contract for his
client, say the chairman of a major American corporation, part of the deal is that
the consultant will speak out for China or that he will deliver congressional or
media delegations to China.'
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Right. I mean, that's--we knew independently how it works,
but Lilley had given such a wonderfully succinct description of the way the system
works that we wanted to quote him--he's a--as a former ambassador to China, a
high-ranking official in the Bush administration, we felt that he gave our own
argument more credibility. But basically, he's just confirming --what I've said.
Access is the name of the game in China. Getting into the country, getting to see
the people that have power is the
name of the game. And those people who can provide that sort of access to
American corporations that want to do business in China are worth the high
consultancy fees that they get.
LAMB:How would you sum up the reaction you've gotten from this book?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Well, actually, in a couple of ways. First of all, the truth is that
when we started to write the book we thought that we were going to be so far
ahead of the curve on this subject that I was a little nervous about it. We thought
that by describing the Chinese-American relationship as one of rivalry rather than
one of essential cooperation with a few areas where we have some problems that
we were going to so defy the conventional wisdom that we would be attacked by
the China experts, by the upholders of what has come to be the conventional
wisdom on China.
In the year that's gone by since we started with this, though, so much has
happened. Public opinion has shifted so much, there's so much-there have been
certain events, you know, like the Chinese involvement-or potential--possible
Chinese involvement in the campaign finance scandal, more and more information
about the--about China's activities in the United States, bad publicity for China on
human rights, on Tibet--a subject that we haven't talked about yet but which I
think is going to become more important in the next couple of years--that, in fact,
we now find ourselves really kind of squarely in the middle of the debate with
some people really --a good deal more frightened of China than we are and more
alarmed about the China threat than we think it's reasonable to be. I mean, I--an
anti-Chinese hysteria is not the proper response to this fundamental shift in the
global balance of
And yet, in Congress and in some--I've heard in--I've been interviewed on
some--you know, radio talk show hosts who will say something like, you know,
`Richard, it's not only that China is a threat to the United States and the Pacific
and Asia, a threat to American interests, but China wants to dominate the world,
doesn't it?' And I have to find myself saying, `Well, no. No, we don't see any
signs that China wants to dominate the world. And if it did dominate the world, it
would probably be about 200 years before it had the ability to do so.' So we
don't think we have to worry about that. There's plenty of real stuff that we have
to worry about without inventing paranoid fantasies about China.
LAMB:This is book number what for you?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Four.
LAMB:For Ross Munro...
Mr. BERNSTEIN: This is his first, actually. He's written a lot of articles, but he'd
never written actually gotten to a book before this.
LAMB:How did you two mix the writing?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: We did it kind of in the old Time magazine way. I didn't tell
you that when Ross was thrown out of China in '77 or '78 he joined the staff of
Time magazine and sort of--when I went to Peking to open up the Time bureau
there, he moved down to Hong Kong to take basically what had been my job in
Hong Kong before. So we were both experienced at Time magazine journalism.
We felt that one person had to do the writing, from beginning to end, in order to
maintain stylistic consistency. So Ross provided sort of correspondence
files--long, detailed files. He--as I said before, he actually has been covering the
subject more closely than I have over the last decade or so, and had his hand and
mind on data that I only knew about vaguely or, in some instances, didn't know
about at all.
So he basically provided the information. I used that information and some of my
own information to actually write the text from beginning to end. And then, you
know, as chapters would come out I would send them down to Ross and Ross
would send me back his often annoyingly long list of comments and corrections or
complaints or suggestions for improvement, and then we would fight it out over
the phone or over e-mail. Without e-mail we wouldn't have been able to do this
book so quickly.
LAMB:And where were the two of you located as you did this?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: I was in New York--and I still am--and Ross lives in
LAMB:When you think of that process, would you do this again?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Yeah. I would certainly do it again with Ross. I think that the
product is better--a lot better than--and certainly it was a lot faster than I would
have been able to do on my own. I f--I believe that Ross agrees with me that,
you know, the two of us working pretty much cooperatively and challenging each
other was generally a constructive and a good process, produced a, I hope,
pretty good book.
LAMB:How long have you been writing reviews in the daily New York Times?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: That I've been for about two and a half years now.
LAMB:How did you get to that job?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Well, when I very first joined the Times after--I--I left China
for Time magazine and I went to work for the Times. I was on the metropolitan
desk, where--where most people have to start at the Times. Even if they've been
bureau chiefs in a couple of bureaus abroad, they start on the metropolitan desk,
and then--with the hope of going abroad. And I was given a kind of minibeat,
which was covering intellectual life in America. When I was in graduate school, I
did a field of European and American intellectual history under H. Stewart
Hughes, the famous historian--European historian. And so I sort of had the
reputation in the Times of being somebody who could handle ideas and who
knew about books and that sort of thing.
I then was sent to Paris and I spent three years in Paris as a Times correspondent
there. And when I came back I--to the States I became something called the
national cultural correspondent, which basically meant the person who covered
debates in academia, I did author interviews, I wrote about
controversies--political controversies, cultural controversies. And that eventually
led to--that led to a book called "Dictatorship of Virtue," which was my--a book
on multiculturalism and political correctness published in 1994. And then I had a
leave of absence from the Times to do that. And when I came back, a slot in the
book review section--there were three book reviewers and one of them retired,
and I asked for and was given the job to replace him.
LAMB:How many words are your reviews?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: They are generally about 1,000 to 1,050 words. A column
and a quarter is...
LAMB:How many times a year do you do a book review?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: A year? I do mostly two a week, occasionally only one a
LAMB:Who decides what books you review?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: The reviewers themselves do. I mean, we--we look at the
catalogs that come in from publishers, we look at review copies and galleys that
are sent our way, and draw up lists of books that look interesting to us, that each
of us wants to do. And then we have a monthly meeting to adjudicate any overlap
that might occur. And there's actually surprisingly little overlap because I think
each of us has a sense of what the other one wants to do and there are plenty of
books to go around.
LAMB:Do you have a certain thesis that you apply to the way you review books
and--do you read the whole book?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Oh, yeah. I mean, I--listen, having been reviewed a--for four
books now and having, in some instances, been reviewed by people who I
suspect didn't read the whole book, I know how important it is to give a book its
fair shake. And the author wrote the whole thing, you have to read it. I won't say
reviewing two books a week that I necessarily will read every word of every
book. Sometimes it would defy the laws of physics to be able to do that if I have
two fairly long books. But my eyes have been on every page of that book, and I
think I have a pretty thorough understanding of what the book has tried to do and
how well it's--it's managed that attempt.
LAMB:What's your theory, though? How do you approach it? And what do you
want the reader to know once they've finished your 1,000-word book review?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Basically, I think my theory is that I the reader ha--should
know whether I liked it or not, that it shouldn't be-- just a description of the
contents of the book. I should-- have
some notion that this is a good book or this is not a good book, or this book has
these virtues and these faults, and why I--why I feel the way I do about it--to
make a case, one way or another, for the book while, at the same time, giving the
reader a sense of what he or she is going to get if-- they read it themselves.
LAMB:Do you ever talk to an author before you do a review?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: No, I've never done that. It--that's sort of not done,
generally, in the book review business. No author--no book reviewer has ever
talked to me either before reviewing one of my books. You don't want to give
anybody the impression that you are being influenced one way or the other.
LAMB:Is there a different kind of a person that reads the daily New York Times
book reviews than reads the Sunday review section?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Yeah. I mean, the whole philosophy is different, in fact. The
Sunday review is--the reviews are sent out to outsiders--novelists, people at the
universities, other journalists. And usually the choice is made because the book
review feels that they are--they have some expertise on the subject or they have
some kind of literary expertise. When it comes to non-fiction, we are--the daily
reviewers are very different. We are not reviewing books necessarily
from--grounded in some knowledge of the subject, but we are people who
presumably have some critical abilities and some experience about what makes a
book good or not. Of course, when it comes to fiction, that's a little bit different.
We all have some knowledge of literary history and probably have much of the
same expertise as other people who review fiction. But--in other words, in
non-fiction especially, it's the critical non-specialist in the daily vs. the specialist in
the Sunday book review.
LAMB:Would you rather review non-fiction or fiction?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: I do a mix. I probably do about two-thirds or a little more
non-fiction and the rest fiction. I--my own experience is in non-fiction. One of my
colleagues, Michiko Kakutani, is one of the great specialists on fiction, a person
with tremendous background and knowledge of the literary world so that I--I do
feel that she's better at fiction than I am and my area of expertise really is in
non-fiction. So I do prefer non-fiction. And I also, frankly, prefer to read history
or books on public policy or essays to--to--we're not in a great moment in fiction
in the United States, but I think that there's a lot of very interesting non-fiction
LAMB:Where do you do your work?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: I work at home mostly. Sometimes I go to Starbucks coffee,
sometimes I go to Barnes & Noble and sit at one of those tables that they have.
Sometimes I go to the library at the--at the Harvard Club in Midtown just to get
out of the house. But probably about 80 percent of my work I do at home.
LAMB:What would you say about your reading--Is it fast or slow?--or your
writing--Is it fast or slow?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: I've always been a pretty fast writer. I mean, you--have to be
in journalism. I probably don't read any faster than anybody else, any person who
does not review books for a living. I find that I-especially when it's a book that I
like that I'm just reading it as a reader does, maybe in longer periods because I
do have to read a book in two or three days and then write a review. But I don't
read it faster than other people.
LAMB:Will you have read anybody else's review of the book before you do it?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Very rarely. I mean, I suppose on some occasions I'll
just--somebody will have written a review and I'll have noticed it without really
wanting to, but I try not to do that because I don't want my own judgment to be
influenced by what somebody else has said. And often, probably at least half the
time, it's impossible to do that anyway because, with the exception of some of the
trade publications like Publishers Weekly or Kirkus Reviews, my review is going
to be the first one that I could have read. We-I try to review these books pretty
soon after publication. So often, we're out ahead of the Sunday book review and
I don't read the book reviews in other papers. And usually when they come out,
they come out after the Daily Re-the Daily Times reviews come out anyway.
LAMB:All right. What would you say if somebody--and you know this
conversation's going on--somebody says, `If you want this book review, you got
to get to Richard Bernstein,' and somebody's plotting on how to get to you and
how to get you to review a book. What would you tell them?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Well, I mean, that...
LAMB:How would--how would they get to you?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: This is not entirely a hypothetical. This happens. Well, it's not
easy for people to get to me and most people don't try. I think most writers in the
big leagues know that an--and it's the same for me--when I write a book, I--you
know, I, with sweaty palms and pounding heart, put it out there on the market
and hope for the best like anybody else. But I certainly am not going to call
people up and call book reviewers up and say, you know, `Try to call attention to
this book,' or something like that. And it's rare that people do that with me.
Occasionally, an author will write me a letter. I get the occasional call on my
voice mail. Of course, publishers send a lot of publicity material and they send
copies of the books.
I have to try not to be influenced. I try to just review books on the basis of
whether I think that they're going to be of interest to the reader, whether they're
of--written by authors that are important and need to be reviewed as a matter of
a newspaper's duty, whether they're on important subjects that the readership
should know about. I try to make the decision on that basis and not on the basis
of anybody who's managed to call me up or get me on the phone or put a letter
into my hands for me to read.
LAMB:Go back to our early conversation about you--your first trip back in the
'70s to China. Where did you grow up?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: I was born in New York and...
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Yeah. Well--yeah, I was born in Manhattan on--my-my
grandparents lived in Jackson Heights, Queens, where I lived for the first year
and a half of my life. My father was a soldier in--in the Army in World War II, so
he was gone until I was almost two years old. Then we moved to a little town in
Connecticut called East Haddom, where we were poultry farmers. My father
actually started a chicken farm mostly for eggs. And so I grew
up in a little town in Connecticut, went to the local public school.
I'm reminded once--Fairbank, my professor at Harvard when I went--where I
was--I went to the University of Connecticut as an undergraduate and then I went
to Harvard and then graduate school to do Chinese and history. And Fairbank
used to talk about how when somebody asked him how did he--how did he
happen to go to China in the 1930s--late 1920s and early '30s and become
interested in China, he used to say, `Well, I guess it's because I'm from North
Dakota,' so I don't know. I suppose--people ask me how did I become
interested in China, I tell them, `Well, I guess it's because I grew up in a small
town in Connecticut.'
LAMB:Are you married?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: I am not, no.
LAMB:Do you have children?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: No. No.
LAMB:You write in here about another book and it's a book--"China Can Say
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Mm-hmm.
LAMB:And it seems to be float throughout your book. You see it a couple
times. And you also see Samuel Huntington's book "The Clash of Civilization"...
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Mm-hmm.
LAMB:...also in your book. But go back to the--"China Can Say No." Why did
that book get your attention?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Well, one of the things that we noticed and, in fact, that Ross
Munro had already noticed even before we embarked on the project, was the
pervasiveness and the ferocity of anti-American sentiment in China i-that China, in
its state-controlled propaganda machinery and also in a lot of closed-door
meetings in the top leadership, was treating the United States already as the
strategic adversary. China wa--whereas the American-China lobby was talking
about China as a long-term friend and partner with the
United States, China's strategic leaders were presenting both to themselves and
to the public the United States as a ri--as a strategic rival in the future.
And there are some, I think, really quite amazing quotations that we were able to
find from the tex--from speeches that were made in closed-door meetings and
Beijing in 1993, 1994. We go ahold--through a Hong Kong source, we got ahold
of a letter that was signed by 116 Army officers to Deng Xiaoping, criticizing
Deng Xiaoping for maintaining a kind of soft attitude towards the United States
and calling for a tougher attitude towards the United States. And into that context
comes this book "The China That Can Say No"--I think it was 1994--a big
best-seller in China that was written by five young intellectuals who, in an
apparent paradox, had been activists in the Tiananmen pro-democracy movement
and had, after the crushing of that movement, taken on
a kind of Chinese knavery--strongly nationalist, xenophobic position-somewhat
quite paranoid about the United States--and had published this anti-American
diatribe in--in that book.
We took it to be a sign of the strength of what we call a kind of nationalism of
grievance in China, a sense that China's time has come. And the United States
and the West are hectoring China, unfriendly to China, arrogantly lecturing to
China about human rights and political values, lecturing to this 3,000-year-old
great and glorious civilization which has a distinguished body
of political philosophy and political thought of its own. Now there's an anger at
the United States that's connected with China's sense of humiliation in the past
and with China's ambitions to be a great power in the future.
LAMB:There's th--this quote--and there's just out--this is out of nowhere, but it
will give you an opportunity to talk about what life's like there.
"But there are also places where people wait in long, melancholy, endless lines on
icy winter nights for the overcrowded bus that will eventually take them to the
decrepit, dark and dingy cement cubicle that is home."
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Yeah.
LAMB:How many people out of the 1.3 billion live in that kind of a world?
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Well, a majority of them. You know, it's kind of a glass full,
glass empty--half--half-full, half-empty question. What I wanted to show in that
sense--and I remember very well what was on my mind when I wrote that
sentence--was that China is still, in many respects, a poor, backward and
struggling nation, and that that has two implications. One implication is the one
that China needs economic development and that its priority needs to be
economic development because it still is very poor and that we shouldn't
exaggerate the extent to which China has transformed itself economically, even
though it has been growing at more than 10 percent a year for the last 10 years or
The other element of that is to show, really, how close to the edge a lot of people
in China live. There's one of the misu--understandings of the book that we've
seen in reviews and in questions has been the idea that China's prosperity and
China's continued, fabulously successful economic transformation and economic
growth rate is what--it will lead it into conflict with the United States. We think,
actually, that it may be more likely
and more dangerous that China's growth will falter and that there'll be social
disorder in China--armies of unemployed vagabonds roaming the countryside and
the cities une--homeless people, angry people looking to the government for
something better. There's been a ro--a revolution of rising expectations in
China is the most unsettled great country in the world with a po--possibly, I think,
even more unsettled than Russia, although the competition in that category would
be pretty stiff between the two countries. It is that unsettled state, the possibility
that things could go dramatically wrong in China that could lead the regime to
ex--emphasize its nationalist sentiment, the idea of an outside enemy as the source
of China's problems. And we think that they prepared a lot of the ground for this
with the anti-American propaganda that is--that we noticed becoming very
virulent and pervasive in 1993, 1994, and that continues to be so even today.
Even when the relations looked like they're warming up and there's an exchange
of visits that is publicly announced to be a sign of relaxation of tensions between
the two countries, the propaganda, nonetheless, continues to depict the United
States as the enemy.
LAMB:We're out of time. With Ross Munro, Richard Bernstein was our guest,
and "The Coming Conflict With China." This is what the book looks like, and its
cover. It's 245 pages, sells for $23. And we thank you very much for joining us.
Mr. BERNSTEIN: Thank you.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1997. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.