Former ambassador talks about U.S.-China relations

Former U.S. Ambassador to China James Lilley ’51 said yesterday that he is optimistic about U.S.-China relations and predicted a peaceful resolution to the standoff between China and Taiwan. But Lilley added that North Korea poses more serious problems.

Lilley, who has served as the U.S. ambassador to Korea and the People’s Republic of China and the diplomatic representative to Taiwan, spoke to more than 50 Yale students and faculty members about current events and the history that has shaped U.S. policies in the region.

Lilley cited a “huge reservoir of goodwill in China” toward the United States, and said he believes the increasing economic engagement between the two countries — especially the imminent entry of China into the World Trade Organization — will strengthen the relationship.

The former ambassador even said he was hopeful about the relationship between China and Taiwan, which China wants to integrate into the People’s Republic.

“Taiwan is not a flash point. It is not a problem; it is probably part of the solution,” Lilley said.

Lilley said the appropriate role for the United States in the China-Taiwan conflict is to encourage peaceful dialogue and assert that America will not tolerate military aggression — but not interfere further.

“If you make it clear [to China] that there will not be a military solution to your problem with Taiwan, that clears the air,” Lilley said. “The only way they can win this one is without firing a shot.”

Lilley, who served as ambassador to China under President George H.W. Bush from 1989 to 1991, began his talk by outlining three key 20th century developments in Sino-American relations.

First, he discussed the Communist victory in China in 1949 and the resulting Sino-Soviet alliance of 1950 that dramatically altered the dynamics of the Cold War.

He next turned to U.S. President Richard Nixon’s visit to China in 1972, which marked the beginning of rapprochement between the two countries.

Finally, Lilley asserted that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have increased the cooperation between the two countries.

“The dramatic events of Sept. 11 gave impetus to the already improving relationship with China,” Lilley said.

He cited China’s immediate support of the United States in the United Nations, intelligence sharing between the two countries, and China’s contributions to humanitarian aid for Afghanistan.

“China’s reaction to bombing in Afghanistan was a 180-degree shift from their reaction to bombing in Belgrade two years earlier, and reflects a shift in their strategy,” Lilley said.

Despite the generally positive outlook Lilley had on Sino-American relations, he expressed great concern about North Korea.

“To me, this is one of the most evil states that has ever been created,” Lilley said. “It’s appalling what they do.”

Lilley also defended President George W. Bush’s characterization of North Korea as a part of an “axis of evil.”

“The American domestic political process is trying to blame the breakdown on what Bush said,” Lilley said. “Chronologically, that is wrong. North Korean hostility preceded Bush’s comments. They were not playing ball.”

Eleanore Douglas ’03 said she enjoyed Lilley’s comments.

“I thought the talk was very interesting and informative,” Douglas said. “I feel he discussed pertinent issues eloquently and with insight.”

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