This transcript appears in the July 2, 2021 issue of Executive Intelligence Review.
Col. Richard H. Black
U.S.-China Relations: A Pathway for War Avoidance and Cooperation
Col. Richard H. Black (USA ret.) is a former Virginia State Senator, and a former head of the U.S. Army’s Criminal Law Division at the Pentagon. This is an edited transcript of remarks he delivered via pre-recorded video to the first panel, “Whom the Gods Would Destroy: War with Russia and China Is Worse than MAD!” of the June 26-27, 2021 Schiller Institute conference, “For the Common Good of All People, Not Rules Benefitting the Few!” Subheads have been added.
I’m Senator Dick Black. Let me just say to begin with, I have a military background. I fought in heavy ground combat [in Vietnam] with the 1st Marine Division and I was wounded. Both of my radio men were killed beside me. I also flew in combat 269 helicopter missions. And my helicopter was hit by ground fire on four occasions and had to crash land in one case. So, I just mention that by way of saying that I’m a patriot, I’ve shed a bucket of blood for this country. And so I come at this from a very conservative viewpoint, but one that I think is well-informed.
Today, I’m going to be talking about our relations with China. And I’d like to start with our involvement with Taiwan, first of all. Let me say that I am concerned by the growing Sino-American tension. And I certainly disagree with those who feel that the United States must exercise hegemony in Asia. And I hope that we can diminish the tensions.
Taiwan and the ‘One-China, Two-Systems’ Agreement
Let me let me start by reviewing the situation with Taiwan. If you look at things in terms of the historical development over the past 50 years, the relations between China and Taiwan are internal affairs of the nation of China. And just as we would expect that China would refrain from interference in American foreign policy, or rather [our] domestic policy, we should also refrain from over-involvement in China’s domestic affairs.
Going back a little bit, President Nixon made a visit to China in 1971, which was perhaps the most consequential diplomatic visit ever made by an American President. As a result of it, the United States and China benefitted enormously from improved trade and national security. These historic developments were founded on the Shanghai Communiqué, which remains the basis for bilateral relations today.
President Richard Nixon and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai found it necessary to resolve the Taiwan issue. There certainly were significant divisions in the views of the two nations, but they bridged those differences by recognizing a “one-China, two-systems” policy. And as a practical result of their agreement, we have had peace and harmony between our nations for half a century since. As long as the United States has approached the Taiwan issue with sensitivity and respect, the interests of both parties have flourished, and peace has been maintained across the Straits of Taiwan.
In 1971, something very significant was done. There are five members of the UN Security Council which have a veto power. These are the five very powerful nations, one of them being China. And the United Nations General Assembly enacted Resolution 2758 with the tacit approval of the United States, and it transferred the control of that very powerful seat from the Republic of China [Taiwan]—Chiang Kai-shek’s old government—to the PRC, the People’s Republic of China. And as a result, the government in Beijing was recognized by the United Nations as the legitimate government of China.
All of the diplomatic relations shifted over from the bulk of nations. And Taiwan had this situation where they were viewed a little bit like Hong Kong was previously. Taiwan did remain strong and independent, but in 1979, the U.S. formally recognized the PRC—People’s Republic of China—as the sole legitimate government of China. And so, it’s rather strange to see us today talking as though perhaps they’re not the sole legitimate government of China.
We went through this period where we had this explosive growth of trade between the two nations. It was very beneficial in many ways to us. In some ways it had some downsides. But in any event, the tremendous trade eventually caused some trade tensions, inevitably. And President Donald Trump raised some very legitimate issues with the Chinese about their infringement on intellectual property, our patents, our copyrights. I think he was very justified in doing that. He was also very justified in highlighting the lopsided balance of trade, and negotiations were undertaken to resolve these issues.
Unfortunately, it was a presidential year when all of this was taking place. And before long, you had Republicans and Democrats both accusing one another of being soft on China. And eventually, their rhetoric just degenerated into a shrill cacophony of hostile, unreasoning voices. There were exaggerated claims about Chinese military intentions towards Taiwan, and those were responded to by provocative naval exercises by the United States. And in turn, China has made somewhat provocative overflights of aircraft in the waters off of Taiwan. Neither of those [actions] was necessary. They simply were a stick in the eye to one another. I think the growing Sino-American tensions have benefitted no one, and I believe that U.S. leaders would be wise to rekindle President Nixon’s most enduring legacy, which was the normalization of relations between the two countries.
China’s Treatment of the Uighurs
Now, let me shift just a minute. I want to talk about the about China’s dealing with the Uighurs in Xinjiang province. Xinjiang province is a huge northwestern region of China. It’s very arid. It’s sparsely populated. There’s a considerable amount of poverty there just because of the situation. And again, it’s important to understand the context of these things when you hear, well, these poor Uighurs are being set upon. In 2014, there were knife-wielding terrorists who seized the Kunming train station and they attacked the Han Chinese in a very famous attack. Over 170 people were killed or wounded by knife-slashing terrorists. These were Uighur separatists. They were carrying a hand-painted East Turkistan flag, and they just slaughtered dozens and dozens of people who were totally helpless. This was not the first such attack; there had been dozens of similar terrorist attacks carried out across Xinjiang province.
The militant Uighurs intend to form a radical Islamic state using Wahhabi fundamentalist ideas imported from Saudi Arabia and countries like that. And they want this kind of 7th Century, very, very brutal type of governance to take place. And they want to exclude all of the Han Chinese who presently live in Xinjiang province. So, the Chinese government was really compelled to react. There are reports that large numbers of Uighurs have been placed under internment in various camps there.
U.S. Internment of Japanese-Americans
I think it’s important that we put this in perspective a bit. Go back to the Second World War, which is not that long ago, one when the Japanese nation attacked us militarily. There was not some sort of a subversive movement of Japanese Americans within the United States; there were no acts of violence committed by them. And yet, we decided to place all people of Japanese heritage in internment camps, internment in remote places.
Now, today, people look back and they said what a terrible thing to do. But at the time, it was rather uncontroversial; to the point where China, Mexico, many South American countries followed suit, and they also snatched up all of the people that they had with Japanese heritage, and they sent many of them to the United States for internment.
So, I think we need to be a little less critical of China because there’s a difference. The Japanese-Americans had never done anything to us, but the Uighur militants have been extremely militant, disruptive, and violent. And so, it’s very necessary for the Chinese government to take some reasonable actions.
Now, China’s approach to the Uighur situation is complex and it’s multifaceted. They’re taking steps to alleviate the historic poverty in this vast area, and they have a very comprehensive, extremely well-funded economic program. And the idea is to eliminate the root causes of the jihadist radicalization. They have vocational job training, increased literacy, job placement, modernization of agriculture, which is very important there, and construction of modern housing for the people.
So, we need to put it in perspective and recognize that there is no higher obligation of a nation than to protect its citizens from serious violence. And just as the United States, when we declared the reasons for our breakaway from [England] and for establishing a new government, we said that one of the four reasons for establishing the government was to ensure domestic tranquility. And the Chinese have that obligation to their people no less than we do.
The Western propaganda about genocide, I believe, is unfair, inaccurate, and irresponsible. Whereas the United States interned all Japanese, by any estimate whatsoever, the Chinese have put in internment camps a small percentage of the 12 million Uighurs who occupy this area. And so it is somewhat targetted; people don’t just remain there indefinitely. And I think we need to be a little bit more understanding of this situation.
Turkey Facilitates Movement of Uighur Militants to Syria
Now, I think it’s important to understand today what is happening in Xinjiang province. The Turkish government is facilitating the movement of Uighur militants from China through Turkey into Idlib province of Syria. And there is a 4,000-man brigade of ultra-militant Uighurs who are fighting against the legitimate government of Syria. They’re a part of the al-Qaeda forces, and they serve under Abu Mohammed al-Julani. They operate out of al-Shughur, a very key defensive point there. And they are a part of the most bloodthirsty terrorists on Earth—men who were made famous for beheadings, mass rapes, crucifixions, and slavery. And this is the mentality that they carry with them as they filter back and forth between China and between Syria. So it’s very dangerous for them.
And I think it’s unfortunate. The CIA has supported the terrorists in Idlib province, Syria, with just unwavering support. And we routinely employ terrorists in various hotspots around the world, utterly disregarding the very profound collateral risk that this poses both to the United States and to Europe.
There’s been discussion of China’s suppression of extremism as genocide, and it’s nothing of the sort. I think it makes a mockery of the very term genocide. Even the State Department, the office of legal advisor, has said that there is no evidence to support the notion of genocide with the Uighurs. So that’s coming from the U.S. State Department. I think the world is besieged by dangerous jihadists, and nations should be cooperating to suppress them and refrain from making them pawns in a dangerous game between the countries.
Work Together to Resolve Frictions in the World
I’d just like to touch on one other thing as I begin to close.
The U.S. and China really should begin to work together to try to resolve some of the points of friction within the world. And I think Syria would be a good place to start. Syria has been war torn for the past 10 years—the people on both sides. Ninety percent of the country is under the Syrian government [control], but the other 10% is controlled by the terrorists. But on both sides, there’s a great weariness with the war. And the only thing that really keeps the war going is that we have such an effective naval blockade on Syria. And also, we have these Caesar sanctions, which are quite brutal; they cause famine in many instances. And if we would simply drop the blockade and drop the sanctions, we could begin rebuilding.
And once we rebuild, the young men of Syria [will] have no interest in being soldiers, but they don’t have any other option. If you’re going to feed your family, you’ve got to be a soldier on one side or the other. And it’s time, really, that they begin to pound their rifles into plowshares and rebuild the country. Now, it’s particularly important that China do everything conceivable to help to rebuild Syria, because, remember, there are those 4,000 Uighur extremists in al-Shughur. If by some means, the terrorists of al-Qaeda were able to overthrow the nation of Syria, this would vastly empower the Uighur militants and they would simply explode back into Xinjiang province and they would spread the revolution there with enormous quantities of weapons funneled in, and so forth. And it really would be an existential threat to the existence of China.
It’s unfortunate. The Central Intelligence Agency and MI6 are keenly aware of this. We used Operation Cyclone against the Soviet Union and Afghanistan, and we fielded a 300,000-man army of terrorists who were trained by Saudi clerics in Wahhabi philosophy, trained to kill Christians and other non-Muslims. There are some within the CIA, I’m quite certain, who look at Xinjiang province and they see an opportunity for a new Operation Cyclone, which is what we called the operation that drove the Soviets from Afghanistan.
I think this would have terrible implications for the entire world, that it would destabilize all of the world if we were to start this up in China. And so, I hope that the United States will take a more reasoned approach towards China.
At the same time, I am concerned that some of the old Chinese diplomats are now leaving the scene and are being replaced by more aggressive diplomats. I think what we need are diplomats who will look for common ground, and who will diminish the level of tension so that we can live in peace.
We need to always remember that if we end up in combat with China, either we fight a land war in Asia—and we know the results of that—or we engage in a nuclear war. Those are the two options. A nuclear war means the destruction of much of mankind. And so, my hope is that we resolve things diplomatically and that cooler heads will prevail.
So, thank you very much and I appreciate being with you today.