Interviewee: Yu Maochun, from Chongqing, China, studied in the United States in 1985 and has taught East Asian and military history at the U.S. Naval Academy since 1994; during the Trump presidency, he served as chief advisor to Secretary Pompeo on China policy planning and played a pivotal role in U.S. policy toward China. After the change of the U.S. government in 2021, he returned to the university to teach, and is also a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution, and a senior fellow at Project 2049.
CND: Professor Yu, first of all, I would like to thank you for agreeing to be interviewed by CND/China Digest on the eve of the 32nd anniversary of June 4, 1989. June 4, 1989 was a special day, a turning point in the lives of many of us.
Yu Maochun: Yes, yes, yes.
CND: So let’s start here. I’d like you to talk about what kind of impact June 4 had on you and what kind of changes it made in your life choices and career.
Yu Maochun: June Fourth was one of many landmark events in history, such as the May Fourth Movement in 1919, the Hungarian Freedom Movement in 1956, and the Prague Spring in 1968 in the Czech Republic. It was not just a big event in itself, but a milestone that influenced the basic orientation and reorientation of a generation’s life. June 4 also marked the re-awakening of a generation. For me personally, for example, what was inspiring about the Tiananmen demonstrations was not necessarily the specific content – which of course I mostly agree with – but primarily the form they took. The seven weeks of the Tiananmen movement were the freest and least fearful seven weeks that the Chinese people have had since the Communist Party came to power. The Tiananmen Movement was rooted in freedom, however brief, and the people were largely free of fear. This self-expression of detachment from fear in the square was a very significant shock to me, because people who have lived in China, whether at home or abroad, live in the middle of an inexplicable fear, tangible or intangible. You have to worry and fear a lot of things – your passport, visa, your school, unit, hukou, your mom and dad, relatives …… every aspect of your existence, many things you do are related to the communist party that can control you and punish you at any time with such an The invisible pressure has something to do with it. And the Tiananmen Movement got away from that. At that time, many people thought that these students were young and naive, but I think that in this naiveté there was an emanation of freedom in human nature. Freedom does not require much complexity. Chinese political culture has complicated many simple things that are right and proper, and has distorted human nature to the point of cowering and compromising it. The Tiananmen warriors showed a true return to humanity, a courageous challenge to the political personality of the Communist Party. This was a very big shock to me. I am basically of the same generation as those students, only a few years older, but I have great admiration for these young people, and they gave me the courage to pursue freedom. So to see the Chinese government’s brutal and bloody suppression of the seven weeks of freedom was a great shock to me, and I realized anew that the most important thing in being human, like oxygen, is the freedom from fear. The revelation and life orientation of this short-lived and brutally extinguished freedom for a generation was also very prominent in quite a few other communist countries, such as Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic.
I was in the United States at the time, and I was at the University of California, Berkeley. I thought it was very undesirable and absurd to have so much inner fear in such a free environment. So, for me personally, the June 4 Tiananmen Incident was one of the most fundamental signs of my freedom from fear and self-liberation. Although I did not participate directly, I am very grateful to the protesting demonstrators in Tiananmen Square. I don’t think it was just my personal self-liberation, because many people in my generation are like that and have experienced it.
Yu Maochun: It’s just that everyone has different goals in different life situations. I myself am not a particularly prominent one.
CND: June Fourth has affected our generation, including me and you. I feel especially the same as you. June 4, 1989 was a turning point in my life. Our generation went through the same thing, so you said you were not a particularly prominent one. But you now have a very special status, that is, as someone who has worked in the U.S. State Department and has advised the U.S. government on China policy. Do you think the June Fourth Incident had any impact on the proposals you made?
Yu Maochun: Of course, it had a very big impact. When I was Secretary Pompeo’s China advisor, one of the topics I discussed with him was the status and future of democracy and freedom in China. I then felt that June 4 provided the most fundamental base for U.S. policy toward China. One of the reasons there was a policy revaluation of the Chinese Communist Party when I entered high government circles in the United States was because Xi Jinping had made the U.S.-China relationship very tense in recent years. There was a segment, and a large segment, that felt that the worst time for the U.S.-China relationship was when Xi Jinping came to power and the United States was challenged. The implication is that if Xi Jinping’s administration was bad, then the CCP seemed to be okay in power before Xi Jinping came to power. But I think this goes against the true meaning of June 4. I then suggested that the basic point of U.S.-China relations should not be in 2012 when Xi Jinping came to power, but in 1989. Why? Because 1989 was the first time in the history of the Chinese Communist Party in power that it was very clear on a large scale that there was a very antagonistic conflict of interest between the Chinese people and the Chinese Communist Party. This was certainly influenced by the factional struggle within the Communist Party, but in comparison, it was a people’s movement that was the most detached from the factional struggle within the Communist Party, and the original intention of the movement was that the people, out of a human desire for freedom and a sense of ownership of the country, put forward some demands and wanted to do something. I think this is actually the most primitive and sincere manifestation of the people rising up against the dictatorship of the Communist Party. This is the fundamental issue for a long and substantial breakthrough in U.S.-China relations. Liu Xiaobo has a cutting-edge saying that the future of free China lies with the people. The Tiananmen Square movement is the best expression of the people’s pursuit of freedom and the future. And U.S. policy toward China must focus on the people, on the future. That’s why I’ve been saying in U.S. government circles that the baseline for U.S.-China relations should not be set at the time Xi Jinping came to power, nor should it be set in 1978, when Deng Xiaoping’s internal struggles led to successful reform and opening up, but in 1989.
The year 1989 was a very important turning point, the year when various communist regimes collapsed. When people talk about the collapse of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union, they are very used to separating the Tiananmen democracy movement in China from the collapse of the Communist Party in Eastern Europe in 1989. I don’t think that’s right. Because 1989 was a landmark year of worldwide, global opposition to communism and its rule, a landmark movement that began in Tiananmen Square. Chinese students played an indelible role in inspiring and demonstrating the democratic movement in Eastern Europe and the eventual overthrow of communist rule in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. I think the Tiananmen Square movement should not just be the baseline for U.S.-China relations, but should be a major baseline for U.S. foreign policy. That’s why I told Secretary Pompeo and other key officials in the U.S. hierarchy that we need to redefine Tiananmen and reflect it in U.S. foreign policy. That’s why Secretary Pompeo issued the most important, most comprehensive, and longest U.S. statement since Tiananmen in 2019, on the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen democracy movement. He mentioned that the 1989 Tiananmen student movement was a movement for freedom, for democracy, so he paid tribute to the people who lost their lives in the Tiananmen massacre; and he suggested that the Tiananmen movement was necessarily linked to the fall of the Berlin Wall. I think these are the areas where the Tiananmen democracy movement had a very important impact on U.S. policy toward China, and although it was a little late, it got back on track after all.
CND: So that was the inspiration that June Fourth gave you, and then you applied it to U.S.-China foreign policy.
Yu Maochun: I just did my best. At first some people were surprised by the statement, but then through our work and explanation, everyone was on the same page. You look at the statement issued by Secretary Pompeo, the tone was basically shared across the United States at that time. (Secretary Pompeo’s June 4, 2019 statement is attached to this article.)
CND: Who is this “everyone” you are referring to?
Yu Maochun: It’s the U.S. government. The U.S. government sees it that way. For example, there are a lot of bureaucrats in the State Department who are not willing to discuss issues in terms of ideology, and the 1989 movement was a very violent conflict in terms of values and ideology. I came from a teaching background, and I instinctively held study sessions for dozens of senior officials in charge of China affairs at the State Department, reading Marx, Lenin, Mao, and Chinese Communist Party documents, George Cannan, and classical works on U.S.-China relations, and the discussions were lively. The classes have been held for several sessions and have changed the views of many people. So Secretary Pompeo has said many times in his speeches that the crux of many problems in U.S.-China relations is actually that politically and ideologically the U.S. and China have many things that are incompatible with each other. In the White House, Robert O’brien, later the White House Assistant for National Security Affairs, also said how serious the challenge to the United States was from communism, Leninism, the Chinese Communist Party ideology. All of this began with a fundamental policy shift inside the State Department. It’s necessarily linked to June 4th. A little bit of what was really right created a consensus.
CND: Yesterday, I went to Clubhouse to listen to Professor Perry Link’s lecture on June Fourth. When he talked about U.S.-China foreign policy, the China Tongue, and other topics, he mentioned you several times and praised you, saying that you are a completely different kind of China Tongue from people like Kissinger who were China Tongue in the former U.S. government. Do you think that’s true? And, if so, what do you think is the difference between you and them?
Yu Maochun: That’s a bit of a compliment. (laughs)
CND: It’s really true, Professor Lin is doubly appreciative of you, it’s true.
Yu Maochun: I am more appreciative of Mr. Perry Lin (laughs). He represents the conscience of the American intellectual elite.
Yu Maochun: And persistent. He is a clear representative of truth-telling. I think people like Mr. Perry Lin are the happiest because he is fearless and very free. A person who lives in fear all the time, who is afraid of this and that, is not happy. That’s why I admire Mr. Perry Lim so much.
CND: However, he himself mentioned that he had a problem that no one listened to him. He is indeed a genuine Chinese speaker, but no one listens to him, but some people listen to you, so he thinks you have a lot of influence.
Yu Maochun: No, don’t don’t, I admire Mr. Lin very much.
CND: Haha ……
Yu Maochun: You just asked about China-pass, there are two kinds of China-pass in America. There is a large part of people who know a lot about China and know very little. Meaning, they know a lot about China’s interpersonal relationships, social structure, all kinds of data, but actually understand, know, know very little. This is the first kind of person. The second type is the one who knows very little and what he understands is wrong. It is such a large group of people who have dominated the U.S. policy toward China for a long time, which is very bad. Why don’t they know much? Because many of the top U.S. officials who used to play a decisive role in U.S.-China relations were given most of what he knew by senior Chinese Communist Party officials, and he simply did not have access to the people.
I look at Kissinger’s stuff, for example. Kissinger often uses the word “Chinese” in general, Chinese people this way and Chinese people that way, but in fact the “Chinese” in his eyes are limited to the top Chinese officials, the general secretary, the president of something, that is, these people. In his eyes, Liu Xiaobo, Yu Jie, Wang Dan, the Tiananmen protesters and dissidents are not included in the “Chinese people” he is talking about. We often talk about cognition, he has cognitive limitations. “Knowing” is his limitation; and “recognizing”, because of the very limited level of “knowing”, his “recognizing” is also very wrong. “is also very wrong. For example, he thinks that China has thousands of years of history, and Chinese people can’t get rid of the obsession of thousands of years of history, so they want to revive the Chinese nation, and they admire the Communist Party, and he talks about this. These are the mentality of the very backward, 19th century missionaries. These people think that the Chinese people are always drunk on the past glories of history and they can never be modern people. When in fact the quest of the Chinese people since the late Qing Dynasty and the early Ming Dynasty, and especially since May Fourth, has been basically not the reappearance of tradition and the return of the former hegemony of kings, but Mr. Virtue, Mr. Race, freedom of individuality, and especially constitutional democracy. American high intellectuals and high officials who see the Chinese through the culturally skewed eyes of missionaries and misinterpret the basic themes of modern Chinese history are in fact very immoral.
Such people had a monopoly on U.S. policy toward China for decades until we largely overturned it after President Trump took office. We feel that we need to treat the Chinese as one thing, to treat them as equal to all other ethnic groups, with the same pursuit and struggle for modern, universal values, to treat the authoritarian government that suppresses and controls these pursuits and struggles of the Chinese as a number one strategic competitor, and to treat them as a top foreign policy target, just as we did the Soviet Union back then as well. Let’s not treat the Chinese as weak, obscene, past Chinese who can never be modern people. These are our reassessments. And because of that, in the inner circle of the Trump administration’s foreign policy, we try to exclude as much as possible people who previously had serious cognitive deficiencies about the Chinese Communist Party. So those people had essentially no influence on me and others that we had with us. And that’s one of the big reasons why we were able to set things right.
CND: You originally worked as a university professor for decades, what kind of opportunity led you to join the State Council? Your switch from being a university professor to a political staffer can be said to be world-renowned, some people love it and some people hate it (laughs ……). And has your outlook on life changed at all from 1989 to now?
Maochun Yu: One advantage of being a university professor is that you have more ample time to think about some deeper issues, without the pressure of having to turn in a paper tonight or tomorrow morning, so you can write and do academic research and thinking in a more relaxed environment. So I already had a long list of things I had written and spoken about in the past before I joined the State Department, and they had all read them. Of course they already knew a lot about my political aspirations, my views, and my opinions. After President Trump was elected, they decided they wanted to reassess the U.S.-China relationship, and people like me went in. The key is whether your arguments are tenable and convincing, not just one word. We look outside and think that President Trump is very dictatorial, Secretary Pompeo is very decisive, but in fact they really listen to the views of their subordinates. My opinion they also listen, my opinion sometimes they also disagree, we are all competition, all kinds of opinions can be published, and finally will be set in a certain we agree on the point. I think my experience in teaching at the university and my academic nature is very helpful in this regard, because it gives me a certain depth and authority. Another thing that we should not forget is that I am the only person in the circle of high-level American policy toward China who has lived in China for a long time, who is able to use Chinese and English skillfully, who knows more about the political culture of the Communist Party, and who can read between the lines of Communist Party documents, and that is very helpful.
CND: Yes, yes, this is especially important.
Yu Maochun: One of the major confusing things about the Communist Party’s foreign policy is that it makes a distinction between inside and outside. It makes a very clear distinction between inside and outside, and it is completely different. So few people are able to make a comprehensive judgment from the internal and external factors. Because of various factors and my life background, I was able to take advantage of it without any problems. So I was able to tell the true meaning of Tiananmen in a more coherent way, and I was also able to know what the Chinese people thought, how their thoughts were different from those of the Communist Party, and what the Communist Party meant by some of its stability measures. That’s why I stressed to the U.S. government an important doctrine, to reconcile, to definitely separate the Chinese Communist Party from the Chinese people. This is the inside and the outside. To formulate a policy on China from the “outside” alone is a blind man’s way of looking at the elephant, with only a general concept of “China. It is necessary to combine the internal and external aspects to formulate a policy that can be reliable.
Inside China, the Communist Party and the people are in opposition to each other. You see, the Communist Party’s army and police to maintain stability, the huge expenditure and cost of stability measures, the all-round monitoring and control of the people, their lives, the way the economy works, how they cross the road, every word they say on the Internet, how much they have in the bank, and so on, all have to be strictly controlled. That’s why the fear of the people is very deep. In addition, in addition to such a deep fear, it also knows the power of the people, the Communist Party is very aware of the power of the masses, so it wants to take the mass line, it wants to cheat, it wants to say that it represents the interests of the people. That’s why in China, even though the people are the leeks under the dictatorship of the proletariat, the word “people” is seriously misused. Its state is called the “People’s Republic,” its army and police used to suppress the people are called the “People’s Liberation Army” and the “People’s Police,” its monopolistic financial institutions are called the “People’s Bank. Its monopoly financial institution is called the “People’s Bank”, and its tool for propagating the Communist Party’s policy and telling lies is called the “People’s Daily”. …… This whole system knows how important the people are, so it wants to put gold on the government. This is the inside. It is not the same inside and outside.
It is different from the outside, when China deals with the United States, with all other countries, it says it represents the whole China, the Chinese people. The slightest protest by a foreign government against the CCP’s repression of its own people is sure to provoke the CCP’s clichés, saying without blushing that such protest is hurting the feelings of the 1.4 billion Chinese people, and how the 1.4 billion Chinese people are determined not to agree, and so on. We now see this fact very clearly when formulating our policy towards China. It is also very sensitive to the Chinese Communist Party, because when we first raised the idea of separating the Chinese Communist Party from the Chinese people, the Chinese Communist Party jumped up and down, thinking that this had hit it where it hurts. This reinforced the validity of our view.
Another point that comes to mind is the importance of distinguishing between the CCP and the Chinese people. The Chinese government is afraid of the people for several reasons. The first reason is that it thinks that its regime will be more stable with economic development. The first problem is the serious inequality between the rich and the poor under the current system of the CCP. Although it has a very rich class, this rich class is a minority, and the vast majority of Chinese people are actually very poor. That’s why when one person makes a post saying we want to “lie flat”, millions of people will follow. Why? Lie flat is the reality of China’s wealth inequality and economic and social high pressure, highly inflated a kind of invisible rebellion. This is a very helpless resistance. This is why the regime is not stable after the economic development. China’s current index of inequality between rich and poor is among the highest in the world, and some say it is outrageous. In a country like China, where there is no voice of the people, the more the economy grows, the more dangerous this inequality between the rich and the poor becomes. Another point is that even though the economy has grown, even though some rich people are living well, there is a further element of dissatisfaction with the regime because their property rights are not fully protected. When he gets rich, he buys a house and has assets, and the Communist Party can take them back whenever they want. In China, people who become billionaires are often more afraid of being arrested. So what the CCP fears most is any person or event that has absolute control independent of the party, for which it has to completely suppress. This is so because the regime has a sense of crisis and is afraid. That is why it is said that when the economy gets rich, the regime is not necessarily stable with it.
In addition to those factors above, there is another very important factor in the U.S.-China relationship, which is that the Chinese Communist Party is very jealous and very hateful of the United States. One of the most fundamental reasons for its hatred is that it is very afraid that the Chinese people will identify with some of the basic principles and ideas of the American democratic and liberal system. So it distorts and attacks the American system by all means, and then it keeps all 1.4 billion people in the country like animals inside its firewall, preventing them from seeing the information of freedom and pluralism. This is one of the main reasons why the Chinese Communist Party is afraid of the people. This is actually one of the most fundamental factors affecting the U.S.-China relationship. The U.S.-China relationship is not a people-to-people relationship, and the Chinese Communist Party is very afraid that the people will identify with the democratic and free system of the United States. The U.S. democratic and liberal system is recognized by the whole world as a universal value. This iconic American influence is very powerful.
CND: We have talked about the difference between the Chinese people and the CCP, but after your name appeared on the list of the U.S. government’s China policy team, you were called a “traitor” by many people in China, and I heard that your family removed your name and your school removed your name from the monument of the top student in the college entrance examination. Aren’t these people who consider you a “traitor” also “the people”?
Yu Maochun: China’s public opinion monitoring is very thorough. All the people I can hear who can scold me are sent out under the control of the Chinese Communist Party, right? In fact, the people who praise me and encourage me are very, very many, and often they are not seen publicly. So I don’t care about these things and I feel sympathy for the people who speak these things. Because they don’t have much freedom of speech other than to say this. If someone knows Yu Maochun, has any relationship with me, blood relationship or colleague relationship, some people do not come out to scold me if he seems to be not high awareness, not to draw a clear line, and even dangerous. So I am not surprised to see this phenomenon under the high pressure of politics.
CND: Let me ask another question. I have a very close post-80s kid who works in mainland China. I asked him if there were any questions you would like to ask Yu Maochun if I talked to him. He asked a question: Many young people in China sincerely love the Party and love the country, and it’s never because people are afraid to speak the truth due to obscenity, why is that so? What do you think?
Yu Maochun: This question is actually very simple. In a situation of political oppression, in a situation where information is completely controlled and manipulated, mass psychology, the so-called mass psychology, is very easy to compel. You know, human nature is fragile. There is a German movie called “The Wave”, I don’t know if you have seen it. The Wave” is about how many young Germans think why we have to tell our generation of Germans about the fascist crimes of the 1930s and 40s in Germany, and why we have to revisit this history when we were not involved in it. A high school teacher did an experiment with everyone to show how easy it is to lose one’s mind and return to madness. The result was that within a week all the people had become a new type of fascist. It’s easy to be compelled. I believe that the Red Guards back then were sincere in their beliefs, they did not falsify them. Nowadays, people also give you brainwashing. If I read the Chinese newspaper and propaganda machine every day and have no other information to refer to within the firewall, it is perfectly possible to have these thoughts of the post-80s, even if I have a reference, I cannot absorb them correctly. This is why the diversity of information is one of the most important ways to discover and perceive the truth and the truth. It’s even more powerful if you go to North Korea. That’s why brainwashing is an important tool of authoritarian dictatorship. I am not belittling the intelligence of the post-80s students. Anyone living in a dictatorial information environment will have such a bias.
CND: Let me follow up on this question. I have observed a strange thing. If you say that people are brainwashed in mainland China because of the closed information, then why are you a rather controversial figure among the Chinese community in the United States? What do you think is the biggest misconception that many people have about you, as overseas Chinese are quite polarized? If you had the opportunity to communicate with these people, what would you most like to say?
Maochun Yu: This is not surprising at all. The United States is a free and democratic country, and the composition of immigrants in the United States is very complicated in terms of race. If there is no antagonistic view of people with political orientation like me, then it is not America anymore. This is true even in the main American society without immigrants. The point is that this controversial nature is safe and legitimate in a society like the United States, where controversial people and events do not fear the possibility of political persecution. In China, on the other hand, views that do not conform to the ideas of the Chinese Communist Party are illegal and dangerous.
This complexity is actually a root cause of American society. Living in the U.S., one has to learn to be tolerant and forgiving, that is, to let others speak his own words, the so-called Live and Let Live. in addition, I feel that the authoritarian rule of the CCP is far from over. Many Chinese living in the U.S. have various business, family, economic and even psychological ties with China under the Chinese Communist Party, and they are afraid that a stalemate in U.S.-China relations will affect these ties. But those of us who make policy cannot just take these perspectives; we need to take steps to protect U.S. national interests and push the CCP to get on the right track, so that even if U.S.-China relations cool, they do not affect the normal ties between the American people and the Chinese people. And the root cause of the stalemate in U.S.-China relations is in the CCP, not in the United States. To understand the U.S.-China confrontation, one must look beyond narrow national and ethnic boundaries.
Shortly after Tiananmen Square and 1989, I visited Poland and some countries in Eastern Europe when they had just been liberated from communist enslavement. The people I met in Eastern Europe had a deep admiration for their Chinese friends, and their language, their behavior, their experience with the communist system, their understanding and hatred were completely beyond nationalities and borders. So they are pursuing it from the most basic idea of being human.
CND: In the United States, there are many people who are naturalized Americans and still go around waving Chinese flags to speak for the Chinese Communist Party, but they have actually forgotten what their identity is. They are completely different from these people in Eastern Europe, and their demands are completely different.
Yu Maochun: Right. But I don’t think these people are doing anything wrong, as long as they don’t break the law. But you can’t ask me to go with you to fight the Chinese flag, you can’t think that I should be like you just because you want to say good things to the Chinese Communist Party. This is not right.
CND: Why do you think the Chinese are like this? It’s that if you don’t agree with what I say you are my enemy. Why would the Chinese be like this? I mean overseas Chinese.
Maochun Yu: I can’t be sure, because everyone’s specific situation is different. Certainly many people don’t integrate thoroughly enough into American society, they feel that Chinese in America can enjoy welfare and freedom, and they basically don’t have a deep feeling about the most fundamental factors that lead to that welfare and freedom in America. Another point – I certainly can’t generalize – there are many people who have lived in American society for many years and they have their own opinions. I know a lot of highly educated people who are on the opposite side of the fence from me, and that’s fine. America is very tolerant politically, and I have people in my circle of friends who think differently than I do. But you can’t say that because you think differently than I do, you don’t think I’m even qualified to be such a person. So what “traitor” and “traitor” are all nonsense and have no meaning at all. Another problem is that the Chinese Communist Party’s foreign propaganda has a large investment in the Chinese community. For example, some of its Chinese TV and pro-communist groups are more active in the Chinese community in the United States. In many Chinese families, watching domestic TV programs in the U.S. is like living in Beijing.
CND: Let me go on to the next question. What are the ups and downs and changes in U.S.-China relations after June 4, and how do you see this issue?
Maochun Yu: The June Fourth Incident actually provided a very important opportunity for the U.S.-China relationship. What is this opportunity? It is a new understanding of the nature of the Chinese Communist Party. This is a historical opportunity. Unfortunately, this historical opportunity was missed, missed by decades – 30 years, I think. What’s going on here? Those of us who have come from China and have experience living on the mainland know that the CCP is confusing and demagogic in its foreign relations; it presents itself as the representative of the people, it presents itself as the savior of the people, but in reality it is working against the people. June 4 proved exactly this fact, that the CCP was working against the people. So those of us who had experience with June 4 at the time knew that it was a very good opportunity for people to reacquaint themselves with the nature of the CCP.
Yu Maochun: But this reawakening did not materialize. The reasons are very complicated, and I will give you these reasons. The first is the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party of Eastern Europe. As I mentioned earlier, that was caused from Tiananmen Square. And Americans and many Western countries in the world saw Soviet communism and Eastern European communism as the purest, true communism. Then, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern European communists they felt that communism was gone. There was also a man named Francis Fukuyama, who used to work for the U.S. State Department, who wrote a book called The End of History and the Last Man. He felt as if communism had fallen and all the universal values of the West since the Enlightenment had been realized. So he did not take the CCP seriously at all. This is wrong from the conceptual point of view. Because it coincided with the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, he thought that this was a glorious achievement in history and that democracy and freedom could be rested in peace. This is Historical triumphalism. Because communism is not finished, the Communist Party still exists and is growing.
The second thing is that the CCP has changed its tune. It knew that June 4 had exposed their essence, so they said, “We only engage in economics, and we exchange economic benefits for approval of our political system, the so-called seeking common ground while preserving differences. This to a large extent softened the extreme anger of the Western world against the June 4 crackdown of the CCP, and to a large extent played a big role in missing this historical opportunity. For example, at the time of the 1992 presidential election, when the memory of Tiananmen Square was still fresh in everyone’s mind, and the Democratic president-elect Bill Clinton was very unhappy with the Republican President Bush Sr. for engaging in appeasement policies against the Chinese Communist Party’s Deng Xiaoping. So he felt that we must have a clear understanding of the Communist regime and get a solid human rights issue in China and make it a very important new marker in the U.S.-China relationship. And then as you know, engaging in trade, slowly slowly slowly the Chinese market opened up to a lot of American companies, and a lot of American companies that got the benefits of China went to lobby the U.S. government. Then the Clinton administration actually went against its original intention and decoupled human rights from trade, and this opportunity was completely missed. The result is that between 1989 and 2016, 20 to 30 years ago, the red gene of the Communist Party of China continued to increase its energy, so that by the time Xi Jinping arrived, the communist system was more stable. So from 1989 to now, one of the most basic nature of China has not changed, and that is the dictatorship of the Chinese Communist Party has not changed. That’s the first point.
YU Maochun: And the second point is, it just so happens that because of the exchange of economic interests for U.S. socio-political ideological identification with China, then China’s economy is stronger, the Communist Party is stronger, and because of our appeasement of the Chinese Communist Party, because we missed this historical opportunity to reassess our policy toward China, the economically strong Chinese Communist Party is a threat to the U.S. system. So that’s why in 2016 when President Trump came into office and went back to 1989 and reached a renewed understanding of the nature of the Chinese Communist Party; that’s why in 2019 soon after Secretary Pompeo took office he proposed to do a revaluation of June 4th in Tiananmen. This is a reappraisal of human rights in China, the nature of the Chinese Communist Party, the recognition of the Chinese people’s pursuit of freedom, and the fundamental conflict of interests between the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese people. These are the most important corollaries of some of the ups and downs in U.S.-China relations since June 4.
CND: One of my observations is that many political dissidents and exiles in the U.S. who came after June 4 support President Trump’s return to power and his policies, is this because the June 4 factor plays a big role?
Yu Maochun: This is a very important reason. Of course President Trump is a very controversial figure. There are a lot of people who like him and a lot of people who don’t like him. But those who don’t like him are to a large extent motivated by his personal way of speaking, his way of expression, his unconventional approach which is not a politician, etc. So for such a controversial figure, he is a very important person. So it’s easy to have an opinion about such a controversial figure. However, Trump’s China policy is not largely based on superficial impressions, but on a very clear and systematic framework. For example, when we say that the Chinese Communist Party is different from the Chinese people, we are straightforward when we say that Xinjiang is a serious violation of the human rights of the Uighurs; we are straightforward when we criticize the Chinese Communist Party’s suppression of Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy. This has gradually achieved a fundamental change in policy philosophy. That’s why, when many friends I know write to me, they say that in addition to feeling an increased clarity in the U.S. about the Chinese Communist Party’s strategy, they are also very interested in the nature and content of the clear strategy.
CND: So where do you see the U.S.-China relationship going? There’s always a need to mend the U.S.-China relationship, right? What is the most important thing that China needs to do to repair the U.S.-China relationship? What does the United States need to do most?
Yu Maochun: In the U.S.-China relationship, that is, the bilateral relationship, I think the most important thing is to have an open mind, to take the initiative to admit the fundamental differences in political ideology between the two countries, and to stop saying such completely meaningless things as win-win situation and mutual respect. This will not work for the CCP, but rather show the CCP’s hypocrisy. The CCP’s attitude now is that I can do one thing at home, I can arrest thousands of people, I can use orders to remove the enormous rights of the Chinese people, but I want you to not say a word, I want you to shut up, or you hurt the feelings of the Chinese people. These things are very stupid. The Chinese Communist Party spreads this set very rigidly. One of the reasons many people inside the CCP are annoyed with Trump’s China policy is because some of the CCP strategists feel that Americans are easy to fool and have been fooled for decades. Now people see through that, so many people feel irritated. He doesn’t know why, what’s going on, how the Americans who are so good at fooling people are all of a sudden smart. This is outrageous! So from this point of view, it shows that some of the policies we have adopted to set things right with China are correct in their approach and philosophy.
CND: What does the U.S. continue to need to do?
Yu Maochun: What the U.S. needs to continue to do is to have a more realistic approach to China in accordance with the policy on China formulated by Trump and Pompeo, which is in line with the interests of the American people and which is protective of democracy and freedom. Now, basically, this is not a problem, because now in the United States, although the two parties are very different in terms of domestic philosophy, in terms of policy guidelines, but on one issue it is very united, and that is the policy towards China. The few differences they have in this area are not about ideas but about specific practices. So there is basically no disagreement on the major aspects. For example, our previous policies on Xinjiang, on Taiwan, on Hong Kong, on religious freedom, on China’s strict control of the Internet, on intellectual property infringement, on protecting U.S. industrial interests, we have done basically what the current Democratic administration has continued to do.
CND: My next question is to ask you to compare the similarities and differences between the current administration and the previous one, which you’ve actually been talking about. So that actually in many ways the current administration and the previous administration are similar, right?
Yu Maochun: Yes, of course they are similar. At the policy level, in terms of actions, they are basically the same. But there are some differences between the current administration and the previous one. The current administration is Democratic, the previous administration is Republican. The Republican Party is very committed to the basic founding philosophy of the United States. He does not think there is anything fundamentally wrong with the United States as a nation. The Democratic Party is a little different, he feels that the United States has some problems in the system, and they believe that some individual social problems are the fatal wound of the United States. So the Chinese Communist Party took special advantage of this, took advantage of some of the discussions and differences in politics within the United States, and used some of the Democratic Party’s highly biased rhetoric to completely discredit the superiority of the American democratic system. This it found very effective, and so its rule in China worked well. But it’s actually a very foolish approach, because you can’t implement so many tragic tactics at home, such as arresting over a million Uighurs, and then you attack the U.S. on racial discrimination, which is not very convincing. The biggest problem with the Chinese Communist Party is that it does not have a sense of self-awareness, it cries out for help, it sets fires, and then it calls the fire department to put out the fires, and it gloats and watches the fires from the sidelines. This practice has been known for a long time, so the effect is very limited. Similarly, the use of these banned U.S. social media by a government that has banned its people from using them to attack the United States has become an international joke and is not very convincing at all.
CND: You’ve done a lot of things during your time at the State Department, what do you think you’re most proud of? Also, do you have any regrets?
Maochun Yu: I am most proud of the fact that I used this position to convince a large group of technocrats on the issue, to conceptually articulate some basic and specific principles of the U.S. policy toward China, and that people have a new understanding. And of course, I was honored to have the opportunity to work under a very forward-thinking, courageous, and selfless American political leader named Pompeo. One of the great things about Pompeo is that he doesn’t have any colored glasses when it comes to hiring people. No matter what your political background, no matter what your ethnic background, no matter what your source of knowledge is, as long as you can speak coherently, as long as you can articulate the correctness of your position, he can accept it. This is not only in the State Department, but in the entire U.S. government, and in the White House as well.
CND: So do you have any regrets?
Yu Maochun: The regret is that we didn’t elect Trump in the 2020 election (laughs).
CND: Hahahaha …… Is that the only regret? What about the others?
Yu Maochun: Yes, just this one.
CND: Last question, do you have any new understanding and reflections on our practices and ideas after June 4?
Yu Maochun: I have never changed anything about the ideas that have arisen since June 4. I think many of my friends have, and I have many friends, including some former students, who have contacted me. I was very surprised to find that no matter how significant the changes in life have been, and the various changes in each person’s personal experience, some basic ideas have remained the same. That’s the power of freedom. That’s why once a person is free they can never go back to their former condition of servitude.
CND: Yes, yes.
Yu Maochun: The People’s Republic of China has a national anthem, and the first two lines are very important: “Rise up, people who do not want to be slaves”.
CND: Hahahaha, all of you are getting up.
Yu Maochun: Of course, the background of that national anthem is to save the country and the nation, but now “Rise up, people who do not want to be slaves” has a new meaning, that is, to free themselves and to fight for the opportunity to be free. The greatest true meaning of June Fourth is that it gave the people hope for freedom, and for many people it gave them a taste of freedom.
CND: I really want to shake hands with you at this moment, because we think very much the same way and have never had any regrets.
Yu Maochun: And there is no need for regret, nor is there any reason for regret.
CND: I think you have made the importance of June Fourth very clear today.
Yu Maochun: I suggest you go to Pompeo’s speech on the 30th anniversary of June 4, 2019. That speech was very systematic. No Secretary of State in the United States has ever spoken like that before 2019.
CND: Okay, I will find the Chinese version of that speech to attach to this interview. Thank you again for your support of CND/China Digest. Thank you!
(Compiled by Wu Fang from a recording of a telephone interview on May 30, 2021, the text has been reviewed by me.)
Attachment: Secretary Pompeo’s Statement on the 30th Anniversary of the Tiananmen Protests
U.S. Department of State
Office of the Spokesperson
June 3, 2019
On June 4, we salute the heroic protest movement of the Chinese people that ended on June 4, 1989, when Chinese Communist Party leaders sent tanks into Tiananmen Square to violently suppress peaceful protests calling for democracy, human rights, and an end to rampant corruption. The millions of protesters who gathered in Beijing and other cities across China suffered greatly in their quest for a better future for their country. The number of those who died is still unknown. We deeply deplore the families who are still grieving the loss of their loved ones, including the brave Tiananmen Mothers who took great personal risks to never stop pursuing accountability for the events of 30 years ago that still touch our conscience and the consciences of freedom-loving people around the world.
In the decades since, the United States had hoped that China’s integration into the international system would lead to a more open and tolerant society. But those hopes were dashed. China’s one-party system does not tolerate dissent and will trample on human rights whenever it serves its interests. Today, Chinese citizens are subject to a new wave of abuses, particularly in Xinjiang, where the Communist Party leadership has made deliberate attempts to stifle Uighur culture and destroy the Islamic faith, including through the imprisonment of more than a million members of the Muslim minority. But even as the Communist Party establishes a strong surveillance state, ordinary Chinese citizens continue to seek to exercise their human rights, organize independent labor unions, pursue justice through the legal system, or simply express their views, while many are punished, imprisoned, and even tortured for doing so.
We salute the heroes of the Chinese people who bravely stood up for their rights in Tiananmen Square 30 years ago. Their fearless example has been an inspiration for future generations to raise their voices for freedom and democracy around the world, beginning with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent end of communism in Eastern Europe in the months that followed.
We urge the Chinese government to give a full and open account of those killed or missing in order to console the many victims of this dark phase of history. Such a step could begin to demonstrate the Communist Party’s willingness to respect all human rights and fundamental freedoms. We call on China to release all those imprisoned for fighting to exercise these rights and freedoms, to end the use of arbitrary detentions, and to change its counterproductive policy of conflating terrorism with religious and political expression. China’s own Constitution articulates that all power belongs to the people. History shows that when governments respond to the demands of their citizens, respect the rule of law, and uphold human rights and fundamental freedoms, the country is stronger.
Source: U.S. Embassy in China website (Beijing)