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Interview Tanscripts
(Xu Binglan)
Updated: 2005-10-17 10:20

Tanscripts of Paul Wolfowitz's Interview with Xu Binglan, China Daily

XBL: So let's just go in this order…What's-I know you have been to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Xi'an during your previous trips to China. Have you been-did you see any poor places?

PW: Yeah, I saw Beijing. Beijing was horribly poor in 1983.

XBL: 83, yes.

PW: And I was in Guangzhou and Shenzhen in 84….


Yeah, I've been to poor parts of China. I went to Beijing in '83 when it was very poor and in Shenzhen and Guangzhou in 84 when they were poor. And that's a part of what's so stunning is that…these places came from really terrible conditions and makes one hopeful, I think, about even poor areas like Gansu-although Gansu obviously has challenges of an entirely different kind than…and…

XBL: So actually before the trip did you already know the vast difference between the developed-like the coastal areas-and the poor areas?

PW: And I'm very impressed by it, yeah.

XBL: And what strikes you most during this trip so far?

PW: I guess it is about Gansu specifically, how remote it is. How challenging the local conditions are. How difficult it is to think of giving people really successful livelihoods in those conditions. But on the other hand, in spite of that, I think real progress has been made in the last 15 years. And you know if you increase people's income from $200 a year to $800 a year. $800 may not sound like very much but it is a huge difference for them.

XBL: Yes, and among the projects we visited, which one is the most impressive to you?

PW: I think it was actually the…I can't remember the name of…well, no, there were two. There were two. One that was just very impressive but maybe it was in the same locale. I guess they were in the same place…where the hillside had been restored…reclaimed.

XBL: the Loess…

PW: The Loess project. And I think it was the same area where we visited the village that had done participatory development project and what was impressive to me there was the real sense of the enormous hard work and commitment by the people and a kind of optimism-psychological attitude. It did seem to go beyond the fact that their lives were materially better.

XBL: And I'm coming to the strategy thing. What's China's position on your map? On your strategy as a new president of the World Bank?

PW: I think my first priority and the Bank's first priority has to be Sub-Saharan Africa where the need for the bank is enormous and where, I think, there's an opportunity to help at least some countries in that area achieve a turn around. And I think it is important for the whole world that Africa not be left behind in this progress.

In some ways as a broad second priority, the so-called "middle income" countries-I say so called because that's the phrase used to describe them…I think it is an accurate phrase-China, India, Brazil and Mexico are very important partly because of their size, partly because their…they have very important lessons to teach the rest of the developing world and partly because they are in the process of becoming major donors in effect in the World Bank. I don't know what point that actually happens. I wouldn't say that the United States is per se on my priority list. On the other hand, the United States is very important to me, very important to me and the Bank. And China is beginning to have both of those…both as being a successful recipient but also in an increasingly influential role.

XBL: China is changing very fast so would you seek to change according to the changes in this country-change how you work in China?

PW: I think we will change and I think we have to. We're certainly changing the terms of our assistance from largely concessional lending to almost entirely non-concessional lending and we're very focused on how to take knowledge from China and how to bring it to the rest of the world. And plus the fact that we're a much smaller factor in China than we were 10 or 15 years ago. That's a product of success obviously. I say, finally, there's an aspect of what we're trying to work on, which is how to help the whole world figure out better ways of meeting the enormous energy demands of the whole world and China is a big part of that picture.

XBL: Actually you mentioned the Chinese astronauts during the speech in Lanzhou University. I was wondering, does that bother you? A still poor country use a huge sum of money to do a space program. Does that bother you?

PW: Well, it doesn't bother me. I don't…I think in the first place that's for Chinese people to decide. But you know when I was in Indonesia 20 years ago, the Indonesians had qualified one woman to go up on the American space shuttle and it was interesting to me what an inspiration that was to young Indonesians that their county could be in the forefront of things and that… I think, you have to think of development as a requiring a degree of balance and, you know, for the World Bank-and we're appropriately put our priority on primary education but you can't just have a country of people with six grade graduates, you need college graduates, you need university researchers. You need, I think, balanced growth. I think the inspiration of a space program is very reasonably part of that. It was interesting, I think you could see, from the reaction of the audience today it seems to be the way those students feel.

XBL: Exactly, yeah, okay…Talking about the students: What's your impression of the Chinese students. I heard, from my India colleague, that they asked quite a few very harsh questions when you were in India. Chinese students seemed more-how to say?-
welcome and disciplined. Did you see that?

PW: I didn't speak to a university audience in India. I wish I had, in retrospect. I think it is probably true in general, that in India you get somewhat tougher questions generally. I don't know if I can think of different reasons. But I think they were good questions today. I think what struck me about the Chinese students was their energy and their enthusiasm and…and how many of them really seemed to want to make a positive difference for their country and for the world.

XBL: Yeah. And you also talked about…one of them asked about if China is a threat...could be seen as threat as it developed and you actually, I read from some reports, that there was actually constant comparisons between China-today's China-and Germany and Japan in the old times.

PW: I have to be careful. I've talked about this but not to say that China is like Germany or Japan, but to say that China's emergence in a relatively short period of time as a major influence in the world is, in terms of the speed at which it happened, comparable to the speed to which Germany and Japan emerged. And I think it is very important to make sure that the experience is very different. And I believe it will be very different but I think China's influence is going to grow and I think that it is very important to use that China uses that influence in a constructive and positive way. And I have every reason to think that they will.

XBL: When I…

PW: Can I say something? By the way, if the young students that I met in Lanzhou University get to vote on the matter, I am absolutely certain that China will use its influence in a constructive and positive way. That's the thing that really is so striking about the attitudes of the students…is how open and positive and idealistic they are.

XBL: When I read some media reports they quoted you as saying that the history of Germany and Japan should not necessarily be repeated. Did you say that?

PW: Absolutely…[inaudible]…
It shouldn't be. It mustn't be and I don't think it will be. I think it is important for people to realize that the changes underway in the world and…

It's not only China by the way… India is growing enormously. Some so-called smaller countries-I mean Korea and Vietnam would be big countries if they were in Europe. Brazil is growing. So there's a…it's very important to adjust international relationships in a way that allows for that growing influence.

XBL: You really mean that it couldn't be repeated?

PW: Couldn't is too strong a word. I think it won't be repeated if people do the right things.

XBL: Okay good. Thank you. And…this is a bit of a long question: Many believe that democracy should come with development. You yourself have been a strong advocate for democracy. In terms of China's development, which is partly financed and supported by the Bank, would you think, in this way: "Oh we suppose this county should have been democratic with this development." Would you think this way?

PW: Well, first of all, I think Chinese society is becoming more open and I've heard during the course of this visit that they now are electing officials at a local level in a way that wasn't done before. I think that is a good step forward. And, I think, development tends to bring with it more open politics and more democratic politics. But it is not a rigid, predictable linkage and in each country it is somewhat different. I do remember in the early 1980s and people were criticizing South Korea because it was definitely not a democracy at that time. But I think the economic development of South Korea certainly contributed to its political development.

My job at the World Bank is to work on the economic side and I feel very good about doing that. I think its valuable in and of itself and I think it also tends to bring positive results in other areas.

XBL: I read a lot of media reports about your comments…in one of them, it quoted you were as saying you will not use…I do not remember exactly…but something like you will not use World Bank to promote democracy. And in one other report, you were quoted saying that the World Bank should not go out of its way to avoid politics. But actually it is not contradictory…did you say that?

PW: Well, I probably said a few things. But it is a complicated subject and it is honestly a little hard to have it exactly straight. The mission of the World Bank is to reduce poverty and to promote economic development and that's really what I want to stress-and I do think sometimes…there are issues that support economic development that some people might say are political. For example, I think people might say that a free press which contributes to accountability by government-I think accountability of governments is a very important part of development-so in that broad way, I think, we have to think about development in a broader context. But when it come back to the test of whether we're doing our job or not it's whether we're promoting economic development not whether we're promoting democracy.

XBL: Yeah okay. Coming to this new job. You seem to love your new job very much. You've been working very enthusiastically since you took office. And you do seem very caring to those people in poverty. How would you compare this image with the so-called "hawkish" image in the past years? Sorry about that…

PW: No, no it's okay. People asked me it all the time. First of all, as I said to the students, I don't believe you should take a job if you're not going to like it-or love it even-it's a large part of your life and you need to do it because you love it. And I feel very strong about the value of helping poor people achieve a better future for themselves and for their children. And it feels very good if you can do that.

You know, I feel very good about contributions I was able to make in several different jobs in the US Defense Department. If you stop and think about it-by the way, I was involved in 1992 in the decision to send US troops to Somalia, which I think saved 250 000 people from starving to death. I'm very proud of the role the US military played in relief operation in Indonesia and elsewhere in the Tsunami earlier this year. If you think about it, I counted up…and if I can include the Tsunami which was in Indonesian and at least predominantly Muslim, [it was] eight times when the US military has acted to the benefit of large Muslim populations in Somalia and in Kuwait, in Bosnia, in Kosovo, in Northern Iraq after the Gulf War. And, of course, in some ways most impressively, there are 50 million people in Iraq and Afghanistan who have been freed from genocidal tyrants by the action of the US military.

So I don't feel that there is this…I mean, the names are different and the issues are different. And in some ways it is much easier to work on economic development because economic development is much more of a unifying mission. But the truth is, I have always felt that it is both personally rewarding, and I think, ultimately, in the interest of my own country to see other people in the world free to choose their own futures and free from poverty.

XBL: So what you are saying is that work you've been doing either as the Deputy Secretary for Defense or as the President of the World Bank have been consistent?

PW: I think it is. And if people took a little time to understand it, I think they might see that the same way.

XBL: What mood would you be in when you get updated by the media or your former colleagues about America's security issues like the new developments in Iraq? Would you be like, oh…that life as a Deputy Secretary for Defense is really something far far away or do you feel somewhat attached to it?

PW: Well, of course the World Bank is in deeply involved in both Afghanistan and Iraq so its not as though those are issues I have to go to my old colleagues to be briefed on. The military aspects, obviously, are not my concern any longer professionally. Nor in fact are the political developments. I must that I've been reading about the latest compromises about the Iraqi constitution and I-just as a private citizen-I find it fascinating that democracy seems to work and that when people have a chance to vote on things, it seems to push them to compromise. At least I hope that's the correct reading of what just taken place in Iraq.

XBL: Thank you so much, Mr. President.

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