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A talk with China's most powerful man

Foell: I must ask you what you think of a young man who is preparing to do some work in the United States -- I mean Ronald Reagan. Deng: Oh. Pershaps you can't consider him a young man -- he is 69, isn't he?

He is. He had to be considered young in order to be elected, though.

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First of all, I wish to express my congratulations on the election of Mr. Reagan as the next president of the United States and of George Bush as vice-president. Quite a number of people involved in the decisionmaking process on the part of Mr. Reagan can be considered our old friends- for instance, Mr. Bush.

Do you think that Mr. Reagan appreciates the view that you have of Soviet global strategic aims -- for instance the feeling you have that the Soviet Union wants to control the Strait of Hormuz and the Strait of Malacca?

Judging by past remarks, we think there is a large area in which we have a common perception with regard to this question.

Given that situation, and given the American experience in Vietnam, do you think it is realistic to expect a Reagan administration to play any role in the Southeast Asia area?

I would prefer to talk about the United States. I think that the United States should play a role in the Asian-Pacific region including Southeast Asia. You know that this is our consistent stand. All along we have favored an American presence in the Pacific region.

However, all along we have also held that the United States alone is not in a position to deal with Soviet hegemonism. The Soviet challenge can only be coped with if the United States Strengthens unity with its allies and unites its strength with all the forces that are resisting the Soviet challenge, including the forces of the third world.

I wonder if you find that Western leaders such as Helmut Schmidt, Giscard d'Estaing, and Zenko Suzuki agree with you on the Soviet danger?

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I think it is important to have a clear perception with regard to this question.

The problem is that some people still don't have this clear perception. They think they will be able to alleviate the threat posed by the Soviet Union, or slow down the pace of Soviet expansionism by adopting certain practical moves, by using mild language, and by relying on such conferences as the Helsinki follow-up conference now in Madrid.

Some American long-range thinkers are concerned that as China modernizes and develops, your degree of common interest with the United States will shrink.

Perhaps I can tackle this question from two aspects. One is Sino-Soviet relations. The other is Sino-American relations. As for the first, one may say that in the beginning the Sino-Soviet dispute was mainly reflected in the ideological field. Later on, this dispute progressed far beyond ideology. Some people say that Brezhnev is a moderate. I say that's only a facade. Khrushchev talked a lot. But Brezhnev, since he came into office, has been trying to blackmail others by relying on his strength.

During Khrushchev's time, only a dozen Soviet divisions were massed along the Sino-Soviet Border. Now, in Brezhnev's time, 54 divisions totaling about 1 million men are lined up there.

The Soviet Union has also beefed up its naval fleet in the Pacific, has stationed troops in Magnolia, and is trying to stir up trouble in countries neighboring China.

Do you feel Mr. Reagan is more likely to be able to deal with the Soviet threat than Mr. Carter? do you expect to have better relations with him than with Mr. Carter?

I'm coming to that. The Soviet Union Supports Vietnam in opposing China, in committing aggression against the other Indochina countries, in posing a threat to the security and peace of the region. The Soviet Union has directly sent its troops to invade and occupy Afghanistan, which has a common border with China. Soviet behavior not only constitutes a threat to China, but to all Asian and Pacific countries.

However, all the above moves which I have described only constitute part of the Soviet's global strategy, which poses a threat to the whole world. When foreign friends ask me whether there will be any change in Sino-Soviet relations , I ask them whether they expect any change in the Soviet strategy of expansion and hegomonism, whether the Soviet Union will change its social imperialist policy.

The Soviet Union must do something real in order to show that it has changed its strategy, that it has given up hegemonism. For instance, it must reduce its troop level along the Sino-Soviet border from 1 million men at least to the level of Khrushchev's time. It must withdraw its troops from Mongolia, Afghanistan, from Southeast Asia. What day is today? The 15th? If the Soviet Union is able to do all the things I've mentioned, then from tomorrow, Nov. 16, there will be an improvement in our relations.

Conversely, if there is no change in the soviet's hegemonistic course of action, then there will be no change in Sino-Soviet relations in even as long as a decade or 20 years. The state of Sino-Soviet relations has not been determined by whether China is poor or whether China will get rich after development. The decisive factor is Soviet policy.

It's common sense that since China dares to stand up to the Soviet Union even when we are so poor and even if our armaments are so backward now, why should we try to seek reconciliation with the Soviet Uniot after it gets rich?

Coming to another perspective, that of Sino-American relations, some people in the United States think that China wants to improve its relations with the United States because China has its own fears, because it has to ask something of the United States.

According to this logic, once China has developed, once it has become strong economically and militarily, then China will not think of cultivating good relations with the United States so as to jointly deal with the Soviet global challenge. This logic is not sound.

Do you expect to invite Mr. Reagan to visit China after he has had some time to settle down in his office?

We of course welcome him to visit China. Of course this depends on his schedule, and on his own considerations. Sino- American contacts were established when Mr. Nixon was President of the United States -- a Republican presidency. Then they developed during the presidency of Mr. Ford, also a Republican. Then a Democrat, Mr. Carter, continued these relations.

We have heard Americans say many times that to develop relations with China represents a bipartisan policy. It is our hope that during the presidency of Mr. Reagan, Sino-American relations will move forward, not just mark time, still less retrogress.

Sino-American relations represent contacts between the richest nation in the world and one of the poorest. However, from a strategic point of view, although China is poor, it is not unimportant, it is not a country one can dispense with.

You don't seem to be unduly concerned that Mr. Reagan might stick to his stated approach to selling American weapons to Taiwan.

I don't know how Mr. Reagan will approach this question. But I wish to point out that we have always been dissatisfied with the Taiwan Relations Act. The thing which could create obstacles or even a crisis in Sino-American relations is the Taiwan Relations Act.

[The Taiwan Relations Act was passed by Congress in 1979 following the opening of full diplomatic relations between the United States and China and the consequent rupture of diplomatic relations between the United States and Taiwan. The act provides for "nongovernmental" relations between the United States and Taiwan, but some of its provisions have been opposed by Peking from the very beginning.]

What would be your reaction if Mr. Reagan engaged in SALT III negotiations with the Soviet Union?

We are not concerned. All along we have not objected to negotiations. But all along it is also our view that we don't believe such talks will help to slow down the pace of Soviet expansionism. We think that in order to check the Soviet pace or to slow it down, something concrete and substantial should be done. We are not opposed to negotiations, to signing agreements. But they won't have a restraining effect on the soviet Union.

Would you favor regular meetings between American and Chinese leaders?

I think that if the leaders of the two countries have an opportunity to contact each other, this will invariably serve a useful purpose. As I have already said, we hope that Sino- American relations will not mark time, still less retrogress. This is required by global strategy and I believe that most of the American people will understand this point.

Why have you not opened the trial of the "gang of four" to the world press?

Because it is a question that touches on state secrets. Both at home and abroad, people wonder whether Chairman Mao will be involved in the trial of the gang of four. We make a clear, strict distinction. Of course Chairman Mao had his own mistakes. But these mistakes are in a different category [from those of the gang of four].

The gang of four are criminals and bear responsibility for their criminal acts. We are evaluating the crimes of the gang of four entirely from a legal point of view, that is, to identify their responsibility for their criminal acts.

Do you not think it possible to make the trial for criminal acts public, while closing sessions that deal with state secrets?

The gang of four are trying very hard to pass their responsibility for criminal acts to others. So in the trial it is impossible for them not to reveal state secrets.

Speaking of state secrets, I am always interested in the long run of history and would like to discover if possible what happened during the final days of & former Defense Minister? Lin Biao.

Lin Biao did a lot of evil things. In order to pave the way for his own advancement, he struck down a large number of veteran revolutionaries and used most brutal means. Shortly before the death of Lin Biao, Chairman Mao came to realize what Lin Biao was really like. There is authentic evidence to prove that Lin Biao even had a plot to assassinate Chairman Mao. In the end, the plot was exposed, and Lin Biao and his followers tried to flee to the Soviet Union.

Their plane crashed in Mongolia, and government officials of the People's Republic of Mongolia and our ambassador there went to the spot. We don't have evidence to prove the cause of the crash, but I myself feel that the pilot was a good man.

[To explain this feeling, Mr. Deng then tells the story of the pilot of another plane who was killed because he refused to follow the orders of Lin Biao's followers]:

At the time when Lin Biao Tried to flee to the Soviet Union, there was another plane on which there were a lot of state secrets, which Lin Biao tried to carry to the Soviet Union. And the pilot of that plane found this plot and a fight erupted between this pilot and Lin Biao's followers. The plane was forced to land and the pilot was killed by Lin Biao's followers.

Is this the type of state secret you refer to when you say the trial of the gang of four has to be closed -- state secrets involving military matters and relations with the Soviet Union?

The group of Lin Biao and the gang of four were long involved in national life at the top level. They know all the state secrets. So that is why it is good to have an open trial. However, several hundred Chinese will attend the trial.

Because there have been rather sharp changes in direction in Chinese policy in the past 10 or 15 years, sometimes American businessmen wonder if there will be such similar changes in the future. They want to see continuity in policy if they become involved in long-term negotiations. What guarantee can they have?

Yes, people are concerned whether there will be continuity in China's current policy. Even the Chinese people themselves have had such worries. However, I can say with certainty that today the Chinese people have no such worries [any more]. Four years have already elapsed since the downfall of the gang of four. In the first two years after the downfall of the gang we wandered about, searching for a road. However, toward the end of 1978, when the third session of the elevent party central committee was held, then the party and government political line was clearly set.

Of course, the series of policies did not just emerge in 1978, they gradually came into shape after the downfall of the gang. Particularly, we have pointed out that we intend to change the bad systems that we practiced in the past. If these bad systems are not changed, then the implementation of our current policy cannot be guaranteed, let alone continuity. That is why we have emphasized socialist democracy and the strengthening of the legal system.

For instance, in terms of organizations, we have abolished the practice of lifelong tenure for leading cadres. And there are other reforms. It will take a long time to complete these reforms, but from the very outset they have been supported by the people. These reforms have made our people more confident, and have fired their enthusiasm.

As I understand it there are no followers of the gang of four that threaten the modernization program, but cannot some of these people who bureaucratically hold on to their positions threaten modernization by dragging their feet?

The gang of four have only an extremely small number of followers. We know what they are. But there is the problem of a bureaucratic style of work in China, and the mentality of seeking privileges. There are people who do not respect science. There is the problem of overconcentration of power. And there are other problems. We have already raised them, and they will have to be solved step by step.

Do you foresee, after 15 or 20 years, another leader establishing another cult of personality?

In the past, some people proposed that I take up the premiership. I definitely refused to take it up. A man of 76 is too old to be premier of a country like China. It is also our firm view that leaders should not be in power for too long. That is why, recently, we have a new premier. Change should be institutionalized. It is no good for one person to be in power too long.

Since you have played a leading role throughout the development of modern Chinese history, I wonder whether, as you seek a quieter role in future, you will perhaps write your memoirs, because if so I promise to buy a copy.

[Laughs] I am a rustic person. I haven't much education, and I am not fond of hawking my past. Of course, during the long years of revolutionary struggle I have done some work, but I don't think I am such a remarkable person. To be frank, in the course of reform, people like me should try to pass responsibility gradually to those in the prime of life.

You have expressed the hope for continuity of policy. As far as I am concerned I hope that there will be more young people to take on jobs of responsibility. This is one of the ways to guarantee the continuity of our policy. Perhaps when I retire, I may write my memoirs, or I may not. [Laughs]

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