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Home >> Opinion
UPDATED: 09:31, March 20, 2006
"Agenda for constructive American-Chinese dialogue huge": Brzezinski
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Recently Tang Yong, People's Daily correspondent based in Washington DC, did an exclusive interview with Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski in his office at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"A Coalition cannot really effectively challenge a superpower"

Photo:Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski (L) and People's Daily Washington-based correspondent Tang Yong during an interview at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski (L) and People's Daily Washington-based correspondent Tang Yong during an interview at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Tang Yong: Dr. Brzezinski, you have written four major books: Grand Failure: The Birth and Death of Communism in the Twentieth Century in 1989, Out of Control: Global Turmoil on the Eve of the 21st Century in 1993, The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives in 1997, The Choice: Global Domination or Global Leadership in 2004. They are all published in Chinese. They are still best sellers in China today. Do you know all that?

Brzezinski: Yes, I do know.

Tang Yong: How do you feel about that?

Brzezinski: I am very pleased that Chinese readers are looking at my book.

Tang Yong: The first time you visited China was on May 20, 1978. During that trip you met with Vice Primer Deng Xiaoping who was in charge of Chinese foreign affairs. After that you have visited China many times. In your eyes what kind of changes have been occurring in China over so many years? What have impressed you most?

Brzezinski: What have impressed me most are the extent and intensity and rapidity of China's modernization. When I first visited China, it had an external image essentially of a third world country and social life seemed very uniform and relatively very drab. Today the major cities of China are bursting with innovation, with modern architecture. The streets are filled with cars in many cases obviously owned by the people who drive them. Men and women are dressed in different fashions. China is clearly launching rapidly into the first of the 21st century.

This is not to say there are no major sectors of Chinese life which are still very primitive and backward. But one can at least see the future in China's current reality, not merely by looking outside whether at South Korea, or Japan or the United States.

Tang Yong: Some experts claim that the international system dominated by America is undergoing profound changes due to the rapid development of China and India. How do you think of this point?

Brzezinski: I think the rapid development of China and India is offering a balance in the world between what might be called the European or Atlantic civilization and the Asia or the Pacific civilization. The era of European or Atlantic domination is coming to an end. But in that context American preeminence is still a fact and that fact will continue to endure for sometime to come. I do not know how long. It may not be terribly long. But for the time being and for the foreseeable future, American preeminence is still the dominant political reality and economic reality in the world.

Tang Yong: Energy is a big challenge the world is facing toady. How can China avoid conflicts with America in the field of energy? How can the two countries cooperate with each other in energy development?

Brzezinski: If the two countries get into conflict over energy, the chances are quite high that each of them will discover that it has less energy. It is an imperative that there is no conflict between them.

Tang Yong: You once mentioned that America is facing more and more threats despite the fact it still enjoys absolute primacy in the world. What is the definition of threat for America? What are the major threats today challenging America?

Brzezinski:Specific potential threats come less now from the possibility of a major strategic war with a powerful adversary, such as was the case between USA and the Soviet Union during the cold war. And more from the potential consequences of nuclear proliferation or specific acts of terrorism, such as what happened in the United States in September 11, 2001.

Tang Yong: Under threat an animal could easily become much more aggressive. Just like an animal America could also become nervous under the siege of threats. Is this the major reason why America becomes so fond of using its military power to solve problems?

Brzezinski:There are many reasons why America is relying on military power to solve problems. I am occasionally critical of what I considered to be an over-reliance by America on the use of military power. But at the same time one has to know that many of the problems of the world today do require some use of force in order to prevent these problems from getting worse. And America does not have many partners who are prepared or even able to use their forces at long distance. The fact of the matter is the United States is the only power with the military establishment capable of acting promptly far away from its home base.

Tang Yong: You once argued that the major challenge facing America today is that the country is misusing its influence on a global scale. How does America misuse its influence? In what aspects does America misuse its influence?

Brzezinski: I think American decision to go to war in Iraq, in my view, is an example of fundamental misjudgment and a consequence of serious misuse of its power. I have said this domestically quite often, therefore I have no hesitation to speak this also for foreign audience.

Tang Yong: You once said in the global geo-strategy, there will be no real sense competitors for America at the moment and in the foreseeable future. So there will be no emergence of an anti-American coalition challenging the superpower status of America?

Brzezinski: A coalition cannot really effectively challenge a superpower. Because a coalition, by definition, is a conglomerate of very different components with very different capabilities, which cannot be effectively organized to replace a superpower. They can challenge it, but they cannot replace it.

Tang Yong: In the human history major empires, like the Great Britain in the 19th century, Tang Dynasty of China, Roman Empire, all followed a path from prosperity to collapse. As the only global empire in the world today, America will follow the same path?

Brzezinski: One cannot be certain when, but one cannot exclude that possibility. Certainly the lessons of history are such that possibility could very well be a probability.

Tang Yong: As a Hegemony State, America will surely have unavoidable conflicts and contradictions with other countries. So what are the solutions to get rid of those conflicts?

Brzezinski: There has to be an emphasis on the need for consensus and collaborations among countries that have a large stake themselves in international stability. Some countries, for various reasons, are more isolated from the consequences for themselves of the global instability. But the countries that do have a stake in the global stability are the ones which realize if the global stability gets out of hand, they themselves would suffer. That tends to be the case with the larger, more important and more powerful states. Take the case with Iran: I think there is an overriding need for the solution to the challenge posed by Iran to come from collaboration between America, Europe, Russia, China, and not on the basis of a solution initialed or imposed by America alone.

Tang Yong: Do you think traditional civilizations, like Islamic Thought and Chinese Confucianism, could possibly replace the so-called American pop culture and become a culture pioneer in the process of globalization?

Brzezinski: Islam is a religion, but it is a religion embraced by peoples from very different cultures. Look at the Indonesians and look at the Nigerians, do they have the same culture? As far as Chinese culture replacing American pop culture is concerned, without sounding arrogant, I really wonder how many young students at a university in Shanghai or Beijing would really prefer Chinese traditional culture to American pop culture. American pop culture, in my judgment, is very vulgar and primitive but certainly very appealing.

Tang Yong: In the Far East region, the relations between China and Japan are very subtle. Their economic relations are quite good while their political relations are very bad. What kind of strategy and tactics America should adopt to maintain a balance in this region?

Brzezinski: America should systematically promote as much dialogue as possible between China and Japan on a bilateral basis, even on a trilateral basis with America. It's not in America's interest for China and Japan to become antagonistic rivals. In some respects they could become competitors, not only in football but also in economics. But there is a difference between being somewhat interdependent competitors and unbridled antagonists. Like the early 20th century was the case for example between Germany and France.

Tang Yong: Do you think the future of China-Japan relations could follow the future of Germany-France relations?

Brzezinski: I think it is possible to hope. But both sides have to work very hard without in any way minimizing the moral responsibility of a country which was historically the aggressor. The fact of the matter is: to end a deeply wounded national conflict, one has to make deliberate effort. The Germany France reconciliation, and more recent Germany Polish reconciliation, would never have happened if there was not a joint effort by the French and Germans, and by the Polish and Germans. So for there to be a Chinese Japanese reconciliation, it requires a very deliberate effort from both sides Japanese and Chinese and not insistence by one party on the other party to apologize.

"Stakeholder has ambiguous meaning but basically positive"

Tang Yong: Taiwan leader Chen Shui-bian has announced that the "National Unification Council" shall "cease to function" and the "National Unification Guidelines" shall "cease to apply." What is your comment on his move?

Brzezinski: I have expressed my views on this many times privately and publicly, including conversations with Chinese leaders. It is not in the interest of America, nor of China to exaggerate the risk posed by efforts at the promotion of Taiwanese independence. The fact of matter is: even if Taiwan declared independence, no one in the international community would ever recognize it. It would be isolated. After a period of time the Chinese people would themselves resolve the issue peacefully. The only concern of the international community, especially America, is: will the resolution be peaceful?

Tang Yong: In the past years Taiwan issue has been one of the most difficult issues troubling the Sino-American relations. You are one of the policy makers behind Taiwan Relations Act. You also talked this issue personally with Deng Xiaopeng. Do you think Taiwan issue can be solved someday?

Brzezinski: Yes, I do. I think a prosperous, democratically evolving, internationally involved China will open horizons for this. Look at how much money flows from Taiwan to Mainland China. Look at how much active in the Shanghai region are the Taiwanese businessmen. The attraction of China is powerful.

Tang Yong: You once said Taiwan will not accept One China and Two Systems. This model can be applied to Hong Kong only. Your opinion is that this model should be revised in the long run so that it can be applied to Taiwan. For instance it can be revised as One China Multi Systems.

Brzezinski: Yes, the two systems are very specific to China and Hong Kong. Even Chinese leaders themselves have outlined a comprise formula for the eventual status of Taiwan, which is very different from that of Hong Kong. Besides Hong Kong, there is Macao, which is slightly different. I think eventually a successful, modern, prosperous and democratizing China will be quite capable of having an arrangement whereby there is one country but several systems, one of them being the status of Taiwan.

Tang Yong: In what circumstances will America reduce and even stop selling weapons to Taiwan?

Brzezinski: When there is no threat or the possibility of using force to resolve that issue. In the meantime it is in the interest of China and America to expand as much as possible the scope of their bilateral relations, not only commercially but also politically and strategically. Chinese President Hu Jintao will visit America in the second half of this April. I hope his visit will lead to expansion of American Chinese relations to areas that so far have not been included in the expansion of that relationship.

Tang Yong: If there is a war between the Straits, will America intervene?

Brzezinski: I think the United States has said repeatedly that it could not be indifferent because its interests could be very much affected to the outbreak of hostilities in the Straits.

Tang Yong: Stakeholder is a new word most frequently mentioned by people when they are referring to the Sino-American relations. American Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick has used this word for seven times in his speech Whither China: From Membership to Responsibility. Some scholars say stakeholder is the word American government has used to redefine the complex and important relations between China and America. How do you think of this word?

Brzezinski: Words sometimes have very precise meaning, sometimes have very

ambiguous meaning. Stakeholder has ambiguous meaning but basically positive. What it implies is that both America and China have shares in larger international system.

Tang Yong: Personally do you think China will impose a threat to America?

Brzezinski: I think it is quite possible in international affairs that a relationship between major countries could become sour or even deteriorate. One or the other could become threatening to the other or viewed by the other as a threat. I think that could happen both ways.

Tang Yong: You mean misconceptions could result in��

Brzezinski: Yes the misconceptions could begin to color the perceptions of the two countries of each other or one of the other.

Tang Yong: Last year there were a series of positive interactions between China and America. Do you envision any kind of diplomatic breakthroughs in 2006 regarding the Sino-American relations?

Brzezinski: I think a great deal depends on President Hu Jintao's visit here. It can be used to expand the scope of strategic dialogue to embrace issues which are obviously becoming more and more significant on the international scene. Including for example the question of Iran. The policy should not be dictated by America. I think we need to have a broader strategic dialogue involving security in the region around China but also in the Middle East and Persian Gulf. We need to expand commercial relations in the wake of American agreement with India. I would like to see some expansion in the American Chinese cooperation in the nuclear energy field to highlight yet another sector in which we would have common stakes. We need to reinvigorate and expand the scope of intellectual exchanges. We need to discuss our different perspectives on the world financial system and trade. The agenda for a constructive American Chinese dialogue is huge and potential benefits are enormous.

Tang Yong: You said you read Chinese magazines and newspapers every week?

Brzezinski: Yes.

Tang Yong: What is your favorite?

Brzezinski: There are no favorite. But what I try particularly to read are serious analysis which appear either in major press including People's Daily or in the special services including those of People's Daily which deal more with longer range strategic and ideological issues pertaining to the world affairs but also pertaining to the internal changes in China itself.

Tang Yong: Can you read them directly or somebody else will translate for you?

Brzezinski: They will translate for me. I don't read Chinese. I read a selection of such articles once a week in translation.

Tang Yong: How do you think of the coverage of Chinese media on America?

Brzezinski: Chinese media coverage of America domestically is not very extensive. Chinese analysis of the international affairs strikes me as extremely able, very incisive and very well informed. I learn a great deal from them.

"I am please to be compared with Dr. Kissinger"

Tang Yong: You said in The Grand Chessboard that the most immediate task is to make certain that no state or combination of states gains the capacity to expel the United States from four strategic regions of Eurasia. Do you still believe so?

Brzezinski: I don't believe such a coalition is feasible in the near future. However I think it is possible that the United States will make enough mistakes, like the one they have made in Iraq, to create a situation in which American people, in my judgment, wrongly will begin to demand America to leave the region.

Tang Yong: You said in your book The Choice that within the next decade, the most turbulent, most dangerous place is the Triangle Area. But someone said America is shifting its strategic focus from that area to Asian Pacific region?

Brzezinski: I think it is an oversimplification. We have been deeply involved in the Pacific regions since 1941.

Tang Yong: So it is not a strategic shift?

Brzezinski: I don't think it is a shift. I think both areas are very important for USA. What is new is that there is enormous importance in what I called the region from the Suez Canal to Xinjiang, which I called the Global Balkans, It is a confused region which is internally violent and vulnerable.

Tang Yong: You know the Color Revolution in Central Asia is very widespread and violent. Someone said Washington would be glad to see this in China. How do you think of this?

Brzezinski: I think the democratization is a slow process that has to be nurtured domestically and not promoted from outside. Outside sources can support a process which has genuine internal roots but outside promotion cannot substitute for the reality of strong and mature domestic democratic players. If democracy is nurtured in Central Asia, it will have to come within.

Tang Yong: As a scholar you have developed your thoughts over the years, fashioning fundamental theories on international relations and geo-strategy. Every book you write is able to make American policy makers rethink American foreign policy and its global strategy. Where did you get this extraordinary capability of thinking in such big terms?

Brzezinski: You embarrassed me by very flattering comments. I don't know how to respond to your questions. (Laugh). I have always tried to combine policy advocacy with broader analysis of historical trends and political forces. It seems to me such a combination is particularly necessary in a case of a country as powerful as America. Enormous power has within itself a propensity for very major misjudgments. Smaller countries tend to be restrained by other countries in avoiding mistakes. But a country that has enormous power can easily slip into decisions made on the basis of arrogance or fear or stupidity. It is for all these reasons that I have always tried to advocate policies which were derived from very systematic attempt to analyze the overall global trends and historical realities and extrapolate from them with correct conclusions for American actions.

Tang Yong: Someone said no one of your generation could catch up with you in terms of the philosophical thinking in foreign policies. How do you think of this comment?

Brzezinski: I would like to meet that person! (Laugh)

Tang Yong: People like comparing you with Dr. Henry Kissinger. Some historians say when you stay in office as National Security Advisor, you wanted to replace Kissinger's "acrobatics" in foreign policy-making with a foreign policy "architecture". How do you comment on this?

Brzezinski: I am pleased to be compared with Dr. Kissinger. I have known him for 55 years. We are good friends. We are often differed on specific policy prescriptions. I have very different view of Middle East and the war in Iraq than he does. But I respect his judgment and I am please to be linked with his name.

Tang Yong: You once predicted the breakup of the Soviet Union along lines of nationality in your master's thesis. Right?

Brzezinski: Yes!

Tang Yong: How could you make such a farsighted prediction?

Brzezinski: That was not a very difficult prediction for me since I was very conscious of the importance of the history.

Tang Yong: How old were you at that time?

Brzezinski: I was twenty��

Tang Yong: Very young man!

Brzezinski: Yes.

Tang Yong: In which year?

Brzezinski: This was in 1950. I felt the Soviet Union was pretending to be a single state but in fact it was a multinational empire in the age of nationalism. So the Soviet Union would break up. Later on in my life I was in a position to advocate policies designed to accelerate that process.

Tang Yong: Someone says you are a leading critic of the Bush administration's "war on terror". Why did you disagree with him?

Brzezinski: Because the term war on terror is misleading. It is not a war. It is an international campaign against terrorist organizations. But when you speak of a war, you are implying a state of affairs which is simply not true.

Tang Yong: But George Bush said repeatedly recently that America is still at war.

Brzezinski: He is using it as a slogan. But the slogan has no reflection of the domestic reality. We don't have extra taxes for war. We don't have mobilization. We don't conduct military operations around the world in that war. There is a campaign conducted sometimes with some other countries to get rid of terrorism. But it is not a war. I think it is a misleading term.

Tang Yong: Bush just wants to use this word as an excuse to further expand his executive power?

Brzezinski: Well, someone said that. To some extent that maybe true.

Tang Yong: January 18, 1998, you were interviewed by the French newspaper, Nouvel Observateur on the topic of Afghanistan. In that interview you revealed that CIA support for the mujaheddin started before the Soviet invasion, and was indeed designed to prompt a Soviet invasion.

Brzezinski: I didn't say it was designed to prompt a Soviet invasion. That was a very sensationalized and abbreviated version of an interview. What I did say was that we did help mujaheddin to resist the Soviet. At the time the Soviet already had political control over Afghanistan but had not yet invaded militarily.

Tang Yong: Given the rising influence of Al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden, Do you feel it is worthwhile to do all this?

Brzezinski: Absolutely! The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the successful resistance which we helped speeded up the disintegration of the Soviet Union. We must not forget at the time the Soviet Union was actively supporting the global terrorism. They even maintained terrorist training campus in the Soviet Union.

The fact also is: because we helped Afghanistan in the resistance, our situation in Afghanistan today is much better than it is elsewhere like Iraq. So many Afghanistan people today view us as friends for we helped them in that resistance.

Last but not least, since the interview is directed for Chinese readers, let me say China was very much involved with us cooperatively and helping Afghanistans in the resistance. Chinese leaders regret that they did that?

Tang Yong: Of course not!

"We traced part of the route along Long March"

Tang Yong: You have had three different roles. You are a professor. You had been the National Security Advisor to American President. Today you are a CSIS scholar. Which role do you prefer?

Brzezinski: I have always been interested in policy making. I don't separate entirely the world of intellect and the world of actions. As I have tried to suggest earlier, systematic use of intellect can feed into actions more historically accurate sense of direction.

Tang Yong: Can you introduce your family life to our readers? We know you have a very happy family.

Brzezinski: My wife is an internationally recognized sculptress. I have three children. My eldest son was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Europe and NATO under Mr. Rumsfeld. Until about one year ago he moved to a very important management consulting firm. My other son is a lawyer and was foreign policy advisor to the Kerry campaign. My daughter is a reporter and anchor for the major TV network CBS-TV "Evening News."

Tang Yong: It is a wonderful family. Your three children are so successful. How do you educate them?

Brzezinski: We try to give them best education possible. I believe that giving children a lot of money is not the key to success. The key to success is to give them good education and then they make their own lives.

Tang Yong: How do you influence them in your family?

Brzezinski: I assume by example. But also by having a close family life in which they know how to help each other and enjoy each other.

Tang Yong: Have you ever sharply criticized them?

Brzezinski: It is the function of the father and the mother. We often take trips with our children. One of the most fascinating trips we have ever taken was in Beijing. Deng Xiaoping invited my whole family to China. We traced part of the route along Long March. We went along to Dadu River and Luding Bridge. This was done the first time by nonChinese.

Profile: Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski

Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski served as United States National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1981. In 1981 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his role in the normalization of U.S.-Chinese relations and for his contributions to national security policies of the United States.

Dr. Brzezinski is currently a trustee and counselor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a professor of American foreign policy at the School of Advanced International Studies, the Johns Hopkins University, Washington, D.C

Brzezinski is widely regarded as one of the most influential political scientists, geostrategists and statesmen in American history. Someone said that only Dr. Henry Kissinger could be on a par with Brzezinski in terms of history knowledge and imagination. Someone said that no one of his generation could catch up with Brzezinski in terms of the extraordinary capability of philosophical thinking in foreign policies. Someone also said that no Democratic of any time can deal with the conflict between national interest and civil liberty so skillfully like Brzezinski.

By People's Daily Washington-based Correspondent Tang Yong


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