"I am proud that people call me reluctant general"
General Colin Luther Powell was the 65th United States Secretary of State and the first highest-ranking African American government official in the history of the United States. As a general in the United States Army, Powell also served as National Security Advisor (1987-1989) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989-1993).
Powell had commanded at least three major wars but interestingly enough he is well known in the world for his unwillingness to use military forces to solve problems. People's Daily Washington Bureau Chief Xuejiang Li and correspondent Yong Tang recently conducted an exclusive interview with Powell in his office based in Virginia. During the interview Powell still said "I am proud that people call me reluctant general".
Correspondents: How do you think of Chinese President Hu Jintao's state visit to America? Do you think it is important and productive?
Powell: I think it's always important for President of the United States of America and President of People's Republic of China to meet and exchange views. We should not expect every meeting will produce some historical agreements or some historical events, but it is important for these two leaders to share views on economic matters, political matters, security matters and the war on terrorism.
During my days as Secretary of State, I was always asked: is China a competitor or an enemy or a partner? I said that don't try to reduce this complex relationship to one word or one expression. It is a complex relationship between two important and mature countries that have many areas of cooperation and agreement and some areas of disagreement. So I think President Hu's visit is useful in discussing these areas even though there might not be historical agreements signed. I think it is always useful to have these kinds of visit. I think Both President Hu and President Bush found these visits useful.
Correspondents: But many people on the Capitol Hill and even in the State Department would not agree with you. They regard China still as a threat. Do you think the rise of China is a threat or an opportunity to the rest of the world?
Powell: The rise of China is basically an opportunity for the world. China is an important country that has increasing wealth. It is modernizing its military. It is seeking a larger political voice in Asia and in the world. I don't find that necessarily a threat. As a country becomes more important, it should seek more influence. It is not unreasonable. I don't think any serious American commentators would think China is coming out to fight the United States. My experience with China over the last 35 years is that China has come out to the world stage as an economic power seeking greater influence. China is doing well by trading with the United States. The trade surplus is too great, we should do something about that. But these are economic debates, not debates of war and peace. I think China could help allay concerns that exist in some places in Washington and other places in the world by being more forthcoming and transparent in its military buildup.
Correspondents: How do you think of the present relations between China and America?
Powell: When you look at the problems we have with China, such as the airplane incident in April 2001, people thought the relations were going to be depressed. A lot of people said to me that China would be a problem. But we worked it out diplomatically. From them on we are cooperating in so many areas. In the last couple of years there are some pressures on the relationship, nevertheless I think the relationship between the two countries is a good one and a strong one. We should continue to work on areas in which we have agreement and in areas in which we don't have agreement. Because we are two countries in good terms, we can discuss these disagreements.
Correspondents: Have you found any difference in Bush's China policy between his first term and the second term?
Powell: I think he remains consistent with regard to Taiwan issue. We understand the feelings of both sides, we have pursued firmly One China policy based on the three communiqu¨¦s and our responsibility for the Taiwan Relations Act. That has not been changed. President Bush is very consistent from the very beginning. We have done everything we can to suggest to both sides that no provocative actions should be taken. We have also seen huge flow of commerce across the Taiwan Straits.
Correspondents: But When Taiwan leader Chen Shuibian declared the National Unification Council ceased to function and the National Unification Guidelines ceased to apply, the Bush administration reacted very mildly. Do you think this would encourage Chen Shuibian to move on to constitutional reform and even independence?
Powell: I am no longer in charge of the reactions, no matter it is a mild reaction or strong reaction. So I will let the administration speak for itself. But I think that there is no question that the United States is not in any way trying to encourage or being positively inclined toward any independence movement. We have been very clear about this.
Powell: Any country with which the United States has a trading relationship, we find ourselves in disagreement with about something. We have a big argument with Canadians over the lumber imports and mad cow diseases. When you have a trading relationship that is complex and large, such as with China and Canada and European Union, there would be disagreements. If 95% of the trade is going on all the time and 1% or 2% of the trade is in disagreement, I consider the trading relations to be good. Today Microsoft has disagreement with EU. Boeing and Airbus often have disagreements. We disagree with our European friends on subsidies for farmers. We disagree with our Chinese colleagues on IPR disputes. So disagreements on trade happen when you have a trading relation with somebody. The old way of not having trade disputes is to have no trade at all.
Correspondents: But why people on the Capitol Hill and in the Pentagon tend to exaggerate the trade frictions with China, not with other countries?
Powell: Because the trade surplus with China is very great. Because a number of US industries over the years have been affected in some ways by the rise of China as an economic power. But at the same time many Americans benefit from low-cost high quality Chinese goods. So there is a concern that China is becoming such a competitor that some politicians here say we should do something. But the question is not whether they say they will do something, the question is whether that could become a law. Even some people said we should do this we should do that with respect to China, but that has not become a law.
Even though there are some members of congress who want to see laws passed, there is a great deal of tension so far. Many members of congress recognize that this (sanctions) is not a good way to resolve trade disputes. The way to resolve trade disputes is for finance secretaries and commerce secretaries of both sides to talk with each other to see if we could overcome disagreements in our trading relationship.
So far there has not been a slew of new legislations passed about China. It would not be appropriate for Chinese friends to overreact to the very public debate that we have in the United States on this issue. We have a very very noisy debate on everything.
Correspondents: Can you tell us something about your retirement life?
Powell: I have done a number of things. I am on a speaking circuit. I have done a great deal of speaking in the United States to different audiences. I speak overseas as well. I am a strategic limited partner of KleinerPerkins Caufield & Byers(KPCB), a Silicon Valley based venture capital firm involved in the information technology, the Internet, fuel cells , new energy and biomedicine. We look for start-up companies to see if we can invest in them. One of the management heads is just in China, looking for companies interested in Vaccines for bird flu. I am also a member of Revolution Health Group, a company based in Washington.
I am also the honorary Chairman of Martin Luther King Memorial Foundation. I have a policy center named after me in the City College of New York where I went to school. I am also the Chairman of Eisenhower Fellowships, a program which brings intellectual people from all over the world to study and work in America.
My home is in Virginia, just 15 minutes from the building here. My wife is the chair of the youth foundation we created. It is located in this building. She is very busy, very much involved in youth work. I have one son and two daughters. The son was Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. My son stepped down last year as FCC Chairman and now is in business as a lawyer in Washington DC. My oldest daughter is an actress in New York. If you watch NBC you could see her occasionally. My youngest daughter is a TV producer in New York. She delivered a baby five months ago. That is our new granddaughter.
So I quite enjoy my life. I enjoy my family. I stay active and I am not on Television every day any more.
Correspondents: What is your hobby now?
Powell: Reading, driving and racing my car and watching baseball. I love reading history books. I have read Chinese classics The Art of War written by Sun Tzu. Sun Tzu has been studied for hundreds of hundreds of years. He continues to give inspirations to soldiers and politicians. So every American solider in the army knows of his works. We require our soldiers to read it. I have many versions of it at my home.
Correspondents: When and why did you come up with the idea of becoming a solider?
Powell: As a young man in college, during a military training program, I realized I like to be a solider. I was a good solider for 35 years. I was a young officer when I visited China the first time in 1973 as a member of a White House Program. I spent several weeks in China. I visited Guangdong, Shanghai, Harbin, Dalian and Beijing. Since then I have been to China many times. Last summer I visited Hong Kong. I will come to China again soon. I don't know what time yet.
China in 1973 had nothing but bicycles. When asked what they want, Chinese families would answer: we want to have bicycles, sewing machines and radio. But now when asked the same question, they would answer: we want Internet, we want cars, we want Starbucks. (Laugh)
So I often said to people that you have got to understand the historical nature of this change. China has come a long way over the last 33 years by joining the international community economically and politically. It has learned that power has come out of trade, not barrels of gun. (Laugh). We should not see China as an enemy. Let's work with China and learn more about China and help China create its wealth so that it can take care of ALL of its citizens, not just those in the east. For that reason China has to work with us, we should work with China. Both countries work together to take care of concerns some Americans have.
Correspondents: As the Chief of Staff and Secretary of State, you experienced three big wars. What is your greatest achievement?
Powell: I am always reluctant to single out one achievement for me. I am very pleased that we brought the Cold War to an end. At the end of the Cold War we also reduced the nuclear weapons significantly. To begin a new era, I was proud to be a part of it both by standing guard as a soldier and by watching the Warsaw Pact come to an end and seeing a new chapter being created. Because of the end of the Cold War with Russia and China, the Iron Curtains came down. As Secretary of State, I was very proud that we got through the EP3 incident. During my four years as Secretary of State, I can look back with pride there is improvement in the relations between China and America.
Correspondents: What will be your regret?
Powell: I never talk about regret because there is nothing you can do about it. Here is an American proverb: always look in the front windshield, never in the rear view mirror. You should make it a Chinese proverb. (Laugh)
Correspondents: How do you think of the possibility of a military strike against Iran?
Powell: Everything should be focused on the diplomatic progress. There is a lot of room left for diplomacy. I don't think anybody is talking seriously about military strike. Military organizations are always writing contingency plans, but I don't think anybody now is thinking in terms of military actions.
Correspondents: You are a solider but it seems you don't like using military power. Why?
Powell: Most soldiers whom I have known and have been involved in battles don't like going to war. So try to solve things diplomatically and peacefully. War is the last resort only. I am proud that people call me reluctant general. (Laugh)
Correspondents: Why don't you want to be involved in politics any more?
Powell: I never had a desire to be elected as a political officer. I have no passion for that.
Correspondents: But someone said if you run for the White House in 2008, You could probably win.
Powell: I have never had the ambition to be President. Now I want to serve my country, but not in the elected office.
Correspondents: Six retired generals recently asked Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to resign. Do you have any comment?
Powell: It is their view. I have no comment on that.
Correspondents: Do you think Iraq war is a big mistake?
Powell: The Iraq War got rid of one of the worst of dictators in the face of earth. We are now having difficulty in stabilizing the situation. But we try to solve that peacefully. We took that to the United Nations.
Correspondents: You once Warned President George Bush about going to war in Iraq "You break it, you bought it". This has become a famous quotation.
Powell: We did. Now we are trying to fix it! (Laugh)
By Yong Tang, People's Daily Washington based correspondent
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