Lt. General Brent Scowcroft

SUSSER: Why don't we move a little bit chronologically. General Scowcroft, could you give us your thoughts?

LT. GENERAL BRENT SCOWCROFT: Sure. I figured I would sort of be last, but --

SUSSER: We knew you didn't like sitting on the left, so -- (laughter)

SCOWCROFT: Well, yeah, let me tell you a little bit about my involvement. It started -- I arrived at the White House the day before the advance trip for China left to prepare for President Nixon's visit. And I was on that so I started out my introduction to the White House was identical with my introduction to China. I was not an august colleague of either Win Lord's or Dick Smyser, however. I was -- I had an administrative job in the White House. I was the military assistant to the President and in charge of logistics, Air Force One, Camp David, the motor pool, the mess hall -- all the kinds of things that Defense used to support the President. So that was the reason I was on the mission. I also provided the aircraft for Dick Smyser to go to Paris quietly without anybody finding out what they were doing. So that was my involvement in the early days.

But principally it came later on in the administration of President Bush and especially related to Tiananmen Square. When Bush came into office, relations with China were pretty good. In fact, they were quite good. As Win Lord said, you know, we've had seven presidents reaffirm the general direction of our relations with China, but they didn't all start out that way. Reagan, for example, started out as a strong -- when he campaigned, a strong proponent of Taiwan, so strong that he sent his vice presidential candidate, who was then George Bush, over to Deng Xiaoping to explain that this was just campaign rhetoric and so on and so forth. And actually, Bush was in the meeting with Deng Xiaoping and an aide came in and gave Deng -- after Bush had just explained this didn't mean anything, he said, "He's done it again." So this was an education process for several of our presidents to the realities of the relationship and how fundamental it was, and that says a lot.

So when Bush came into office in 1989, one of the first things we wanted to do was to meet with the Chinese. Because just before inauguration day, it had been announced that the Soviets -- Gorbachev was going to come to China in March, I think it was, for a state visit. We wanted to get there ahead of time, but how can you do that with a President, brand new, just inaugurated, to jump on a plane and go to a trip to China. Well, the Japanese Emperor obliged us by succumbing and we went to the funeral, and immediately after the funeral we went on to China. And it was a great visit. Win, you should have talked about that. Win was the ambassador at that time.

But one special thing, President Bush wanted the Chinese to know how close he felt to them, so he brought a special dinner along, a Texas barbecue, complete with the checkered tablecloths. The whole thing was flown in. Well, I don't know about you, but the Chinese I sat with looked at it and poked at it and pushed it around and didn't touch it. (Laughter.)

Anyway, shortly after that came Tiananmen Square. It was a serious crisis in the relationship. We had to respond. It was an outrageous act. But President Bush felt he had to respond but he did not want to sever this relationship which had been gradually built up and gradually deepened. So we imposed sanctions, but they were primarily sanctions against the military relationship, military supplies and things like that, on the grounds that it was the military who had moved in to Tiananmen Square and therefore they were the -- they should bear the brunt of it.

But at the same time he was deeply worried that this relationship would be destroyed, so he tried to call Deng Xiaoping on the telephone. Well, the Chinese said, "Our leaders don't talk on the telephone." So what to do? So finally, he asked me to go over to the embassy and I did, and there's a little park in front of the embassy here, as some of you know, and there's a big statue of the Lady of Freedom from Tiananmen Square, you know, up there and all kinds of placards and so on and so forth. It was like walking through a bomb field.

So I went in and explained to the ambassador that we didn't like what they did, we had demonstrated we didn't like what they did, but nevertheless we wanted to sustain our relationship. And if the Chinese leaders were amenable, we would be prepared to send an emissary quietly to talk to them. In less than 24 hours, a note came from Deng Xiaoping, yes, we'd be happy to.

So Larry Eagleburger, who was Deputy Secretary of State, and I went over there. We went on a C-141 with aerial refueling so we didn't have to land anywhere between Washington and Beijing. The Chinese President told me later that as we were approaching the entryway in through Shanghai that he got a call from the border patrols that an unknown aircraft was approaching, should they shoot it down. (Laughter.) And he said, no, let it through.

So we got there and had a fascinating set of discussions with both Deng Xiaoping and Li Peng. And Deng Xiaoping said, "I'm not longer in the government. I agreed to meet with you because you're an old friend, but I want to tell you Tiananmen has absolutely nothing to do with you. It's an internal matter. It doesn't affect you and you're interfering in our business."

So I said, "Yes, you're right. It's an internal matter absolutely. But the external effects of what you have done are of great concern to us and that's why I'm here." So we had a long, long discussion for two days. It was not a negotiating session, but what it was as a demonstration of the depth of the relationship and that somehow we needed to get past this bad chapter.

Move ahead six months. We wanted to see if we could get something going with the Chinese again so that -- so President Bush took the opportunity of the Soviet summit at Malta to tell the Chinese he'd be happy to send somebody to report to the Chinese about that summit. So the Chinese said yes, we'd like that. And I went again this time, this time publicly, and then we did engage in negotiations. It was still a difficult time.

When I got there, there was an American film crew in China. I can't remember why they were there, but anyway the Chinese asked if they could film our proceedings. And I said no, but it's all right -- you can film our first -- the opening session which is, you know, you sit down and have tea and exchange pleasantries, and then you adjourn. So they said fine.

Well, they filmed that. And then as we were having our first dinner, as a part of the first dinner, of course, the Chinese custom is that you have toasts. Well, just as I was lifting a glass to respond to the Chinese toast, in came the camera crew. And I thought: What do I do? Do I put my glass down, refuse to toast, destroy my mission? Or do I go ahead and toast and be, in return, toasted by the American press? Well, I chose the latter, and boy, was I toasted.

Anyway, that session in negotiating principally with Qian Qichen, we came up with a roadmap to renormalize our relations. They would do something, we would respond, then we'd do something, they would respond, and so on. But after the first couple of steps came the Romanian coup against Ceausescu and I think the Chinese up to that point had been fairly relaxed about what was going on in Eastern Europe because a lot of the other leaders were sort of not pure communist. But Ceausescu, you know, a real down-to-earth communist, he would survive. Well, when he didn't, I think they panicked. And the roadmap stopped and then it was a very slow, gradual process to get back to normal relations.

I think what it shows is that despite ups and downs -- and Philip Zelikow didn't mention all of the downs, he made it sound sort of easy. There have been some really, really rough spots in this relationship. But I think the fact that it has endured shows that it is deeply important both to the United States and China, and it won't survive any blows that either side can strike at it but it's strong enough to endure most of them. So I'm proudly optimistic for the future. Thank you. (Applause.)