Friday, July 6, 2001



SAME BED, DIFFERENT DREAMS: Managing U.S.-China Relations 1989-2000 
By David M. Lampton 
University of California Press 2001    497 pages

Reviewed by Philip J. Cunningham

A decade of diplomatic history that starts with an unforgettable massacre and ends with a difficult-to-explain bombing is not exactly full of hope, yet the US-China quest for mutual understanding and respect endures, a credit to both sides.  There is an impressive resilience to US-China amity, built as much on the private efforts of ordinary citizens as on backroom diplomacy and political summits

In SAME BED, DIFFERENT DREAMS, veteran China watcher David M. Lampton takes on the role of the unflappable tour guide, leading us past bullet-ridden bodies and smoldering bombed-out buildings, without rancour or excessive gloom. Reminiscent of the wide-eyed British kid in EMPIRE OF THE SUN who explores Japan-occupied Shanghai with a deeply muted nationalism and fervent curiosity, Lampton is less interested in the way things ought to be than the way they are.

The author argues convincingly that China is the key challenge of US diplomacy, focusing on four crisis points in the last decade.

Newly-appointed US Ambassador James Lilley had barely gotten over jetlag when June 4, 1989 rolled around and Fang Lizhi “escaped” into the US Embassy.  The White House had been feuding with Winston Lord for inviting Fang Lizhi to the presidential banquet in February; Deng refused to attend if Fang showed up, so Chinese police contributed to the “success” of the event by preventing Fang from entering the Great Wall Hotel. While emotions ran high on both sides, diplomatic and intelligence emissaries such as Nixon and Scowcroft quietly worked out a road map to get the US-China relationship up and running again. 

March 1994 was the second turning point, the bump in the road where trade started to trump human rights. Wei Jingsheng was arrested shortly after meeting the State Department’s John Shattuck, and Warren Christopher, in Beijing with Ron Brown on a trade junket, was unable to do anything about it. It was an “unproductive embarrassment,” about which Clinton reportedly exclaimed ‘What the hell is Chris doing there now?’”

In 1995-6, a crisis was triggered by Lee Tenghui’s presidential speech at Cornell University. The diplomatic coup of getting Congress to vote almost unanimously for Lee’s visit, --something not even Israel or Britain could achieve boasted a Taipei official-- was followed by a Taiwan Straits showdown which left no one in a bragging mood. Paradoxically, it was the Taiwan security crisis that revived Sino-US cooperation because in Lampton’s words, the relationship is “first and foremost, about war and peace.”

In May 1999, shortly after Zhu Rongji’s humiliating trip to the US during which his hard-won WTO concessions were ignored by Clinton, US and Nato targeters “got sloppy,” hitting the “intelligence section” of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade.  Lampton doesn’t put all his cards on the table when talking about this sensitive incident, but he is wise enough to see why China was infuriated, noting that a CIA operations officer was later fired for his role in the targeting.

The author sounds very much like a US college professor (or a Chinese propagandist) with his blackboard-style schema such as “the five points”, “the four desires” and  “the three sets of questions.”  But he makes a number of shrewd formulations, characterizing Bush Sr. “a friend” of China” while Bush Jr. is “a competitor,” and notes that US interests are negligible in Tibet, so the “US is left with rhetoric.”  He compares China’s controversial relationship with Pakistan to the US relationship with Israel, raising some interesting questions. He livens things up with pithy gems such as “Free traders are traitors”  (Pat Buchanan), or “When I see God I’ll tell him it’s better to have Taiwan under the care of the United States now.” (Mao to Kissinger)

The Tiananmen crackdown in June 1989 and the May 1999 bombing of the China Embassy in Belgrade were world-class diplomatic setbacks, each effectively erasing a decade of tentative goodwill, sending things back to square one.

Lampton expounds on China’s unique role as a powerful victim, explaining that it is quite rational for the weaker of two powers to be less transparent just as it is self-serving for the stronger power to promote an arms race through missile defense schemes and the like in the hopes of bankrupting the other side.

As a Washington-based academic who goes to China mostly with suit and tie delegations, Lampton is not without his blind spots.  In a thick volume with few obvious errors, he mistakes (Mr.) Liu Qing, a veteran political prisoner, for Wei Jingsheng’s sister, not so much a howler as a symptomatic of book-derived knowledge. Not only is Wei Shanshan an outspoken advocate for her brother, but Liu is an unlikely surname for anyone in the Wei family since Chinese women don’t usually change surnames after marriage.

Finally, the poignant image of Ambassador Jim Sasser peeking out of a smashed window of the US embassy is tragic and iconic, but it was a staged shot, an inside job by the embassy’s PR photographer.


triple standard  Liu Zhongli complains that US has its eyes shut to its own human rights problems, one eye shut for other countries, but with China “they open both eyes and stare.”
p151 Though US provided clandestine support for Dalai Lama during Cold War.

Zhu came close to closing deal on WTO in April 1999, but the Clinton White House wavered because Congress was ready to “crucify” them, as Senator Biden later explained.

Cox Report “justifiably called attention” to lapses, but provides little evidence for the when and where of what, if anything, had been lost.

HR is noisy, dem. Development favors quiet, institutional changes
China sees Congress as side show, perhaps reflecting view of Nixon/Kissinger and Carter/Brzezinski, who also did executive branch end runs around legislators.

First generation student of legendary teacher Mike Oksenberg, to whom book is dedicated.

Kissinger, who has been recently exposed as an indictable war criminal by British journalist Christopher Hitchens, holds a respected position in Lampton’s pantheon of elders.

Three levels:
Global, domestic, individual

Gap between domestic and foreign policy in each country

Volatile nationalism at play

China is a strong victim country

Each country needs “effective and secure” political leadership, transformative power of leaders

Lack of leadership allows interest groups and media to fill the void

“You can’t help Hong Kong by hurting the Hong Kong economy” (Chris Patten)

Like many people out of media, he overrates CNN and tends to use it as lump term to refer to TV coverage in general. CNN is wire services paraphrased by talking heads.

policy wonk
Whiff of Washington,

We don’t learn much about Clinton’s view of the Belgrade bombing, other than his inability to apologize effectively.  But we do get a glimpse of how his mind worked on the question of trade sanctions, when he hear Clinton explain why automatic sanctions increases pressure “to fudge an evaluation of the facts,” a telling quote from the master of fudging.