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May 2006

Release Date: May 25, 2006

ASU History Professor Sees Positive Future for China

Angelo State University history professor Joe Zheng, who has taught about his native China since his days as a translator and tour guide for foreign delegations to the Asian country two decades ago, sees three issues influencing Sino-American relationships in the 21st century.

They are the China’s burgeoning economy, its relationship with North Korea and the status of Taiwan. Zheng, who teaches courses in Chinese history at ASU, was born and raised in Tianjin, China’s third largest city and a center of commerce and industry. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Tianjin Normal University and later became a professor there.

When China began opening to the outside world in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Zheng started working in the foreign-affairs office at TNU, helping the university establish contacts outside China.

Zheng, who still visits China to see his and his wife’s families and keeps up with Chinese current affairs, largely through Chinese publications available on the Internet, said the economic development has been a boon to everyone in China, though it has benefited some more than others.

“China is becoming a world factory,” Zheng said. “Economically speaking, this economic growth since the early 1980s has been reaping some benefits on almost all Chinese. On average, the living standard of Chinese has been improved, especially in coastal areas. Even though it’s unbalanced, it has had a positive influence on the most underdeveloped regions of China.

“China is more united now than at any other period in history.”

The growth of the Chinese economy has also helped differentiate China’s world view from that of its troublesome neighbor North Korea. China has begrudgingly maintained its relationship with North Korea despite diverging communist ideologies and North Korea’s increasing isolation, Zheng said.

“Since China improved its relationship with the United States, it really affected the China-North Korea relationship,” Zheng said. “In the late 1970s, early 1980s, they were still allies, but China developed a relationship with the United States. Behind the curtain, China and North Korea had some thorny issues.

“North Korea now, for the Chinese, is still a neighbor, but China is trying to keep this neighbor from disturbing the peaceful, stable environment China has worked to create.

“Chinese leaders are focusing on industrializing and modernizing China. The Chinese Communist Party is moving away from the pure Marxist/Leninist mode and China is becoming an economic and more practical state. North Korea is still the old type,” he said.

North Korea depends on China, Zheng noted, and China is the only country North Korea can consider as being friendly. Even so, North Korea, ideologically, is quite isolated.

“I believe North Korea, in Chinese eyes, is a very annoying neighbor, but China cannot ignore them, but has to make it as less disturbing a factor as possible in China’s nexus with the countries in its vicinity and elsewhere.”

The island of Taiwan has been an issue between the U.S. and China since the aftermath of World War II when it was occupied by Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalist forces and set apart from Mainland China. Though the issue of Taiwan has complicated Sino-American relations for more than half a century, Zheng said the threat of a military confrontation over the issue isn’t as pressing as some contemporary American politicians make it out to be.

“This is a very complex issue,” Zheng said. “The bottom line is quite clear: Beijing can tolerate anything about Taiwan except independence.

“It’s a very delicate situation between Taiwan and China. It’s my personal opinion that as long as Taiwan maintains the status quo, I don’t think China will use military power to acquire Taiwan.

“Taiwan could declare independence right now, but that’s not good policy. At the same time, the Chinese are leery of outside interference. They still believe this is an internal issue.”

Zheng’s United States teaching career began at Bucks County Community College in Pennsylvania. After visiting with friends throughout the United States, Zheng enrolled in a doctorate program at the University of Toledo.

He earned his doctorate in 1997 and has been on the ASU faculty since 1999.

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