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Orville Schell

A 30-year veteran of reporting on China discusses Deng's counterrevolution.

Q: Hasn't a sea change already occurred since you first went to China?

A: When I first went there, there wasn't a single merchant on any street, no stalls, no private business, nothing. Deng had an utterly profound effect -- every bit as profound as Mao's initial revolution, which in economic terms, Deng undid. Deng is the counterrevolutionary par excellence in history.

Q: Will Deng's successors retrench?

A: Some of these people fought for almost 50 years for the Marxist revolution, and I, think it's very naive for Westerners to assume that that experience, that mind-set, that whole ideology just simply vanished with Deng's reforms.

Q: So is the country in a transitional phase?

A: China is always "in transition." Deng was always dying. And now Jiang is always consolidating his power, although actually I think he's done a reasonable job on that score. It's just that the nature of the system in China is such that it's asystemic. There is no system in China for choosing leaders, except they get in the back room and they slug it out, and one day you wake up and somebody's gone.

Q: This is a country of more than 1 billion, with Communist Party membership around 50 million, and only a relative handful of leaders directing policy, right?

A: In a Leninist organization, the professional revolutionaries are always the minority. But they're no longer exclusively party members. They're now using their positions both in the party and in the government to make money.

Q: How has the military evolved?

A: The military has set up enterprises of its own both in and outside of China that have, in essence, turned large sectors of the military into entrepreneurial bases rather than military bases. Anything from whorehouses to nightclubs to factories to overseas construction to investment companies and real estate deals.

Q: And what is happening with U.S. business interests in China?

A: The presumption is if you can get in bed with somebody in the government as an American business, you can buy protection and a ticket to a good commercial future. This is one reason why the so-called red-chip stocks on the Hong Kong market, which are Chinese companies listed in Hong Kong, have just been skyrocketing.

Q: How do you view American commercial ties there?

A: Many people see them as supporting a sclerotic Leninist government, and that by doing business with the Beijing government you are prolonging its ability to survive. Other people see them as the best way toward peaceful evolution. Singapore is Beijing's model of how you reform economically and join the world marketplace in terms of creating a free market without having to loosen up politically.

Q: Don't the Chinese argue that they're just protecting their culture against Western missionary zeal?

A: I just take a very dubious view of this notion that Asian values somehow end up on the side of authoritarianism. Confucius did believe in obedience to authority and hierarchy and this sort of thing, but, on the other hand, he was not inherently anti-democratic and certainly was not anti-humanist; Confucianism certainly does not provide textual justification for oppressing people without due process, torturing them, and suspending their political rights.

Q: So, is China ready for democracy?

A: No. It will not spring forth like Athena out of the head of Zeus any time soon. Still, it's not too soon to imagine that China could be a more humane government, a government that is based more on the rule of law.

Q: Does America's moral hectoring help?

A: We have had a long evangelical tradition in Christianity and capitalism, which can be unrealistic. But it is important that the U.S. continue to speak out and trade and carry on normal diplomatic relations -- that it not be humiliating or insulting. I'm not in favor of blanket trade sanctions, but there are other kinds of punitive actions that some people think we ought to take -- like denying them exchanges, not letting certain Chinese leaders come to the U.S., doing various kinds of sanctions because they sell missiles to Pakistan or nuclear technology to Iran, maybe put some conditions on admission to the World Trade Organization. I'm very leery of such steps, but I feel strongly that the U.S. should not be intimidated into rhetorical silence.

Q: When Jiang visits President Clinton this fall, what would you push for?

A: I'd suggest that they start discussing some sort of solution that would allow the Dalai Lama to go home as a cultural and religious leader and that they would discuss some new prescriptions for Tibetan autonomy. I would suggest they push for renunciation of the use of force in the Taiwan Straits. If Beijing could make some demonstration that they wouldn't interfere in Taiwan and Hong Kong in the elections that are slated now for spring, that would be very important. And let some political prisoners go. But I don't think that Jiang Zemin is this strong and able to act unilaterally.

Q: A bevy of former U.S. government officials have become a de facto Chinese-American commercial cabinet, acting as intermediaries for business interests on both sides -- Henry Kissinger and Alexander Haig from GOP administrations, former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance from a Democratic administration. How do you feel about that?

A: It has a destructive effect on policy. I mean, it used to be that people left government and retired. Now they go into business. It's particularly dangerous when people doing business in China become sort of the representatives of the Chinese government in Washington, because the Chinese government has them wrapped around its finger.

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