Thu. May 26th, 2022

Part 1 of the Series: Why Confrontation With China Destroys The U.S.

Starting today, February 2, 2022, we are serializing in five parts an edited transcription of an interview conducted on December 29, 2021 by the Executive Intelligence Review, the Schiller Institute, and the LaRouche Organization.  

Ambassador Anson Burlingame

EIR: This is Mike Billington, I’m here with Dr. George Koo who is the head of the Burlingame Foundation, which is named after Anson Burlingame, the American diplomat in China who actually ended up representing China.

Mr. Koo, could you discuss a bit about his career, when there was an attempt by the U.S. to establish good relations with China, which was at that time under the boot of the British?

Dr. Koo: About 13 years ago I happened to catch, in a very small local newspaper that covers the city of Burlingame, that the Burlingame Historical Society wrote about the life of Anson Burlingame—that’s the first time I heard about him, and that the city of Burlingame was named after him.

I was fascinated because, here is somebody who was a dedicated abolitionist, anti-slavery, who placed the highest importance on human rights and human dignity, and was one of the founders of the Republican Party and an energetic, vigorous supporter of Abraham Lincoln, and helped get Lincoln elected. He worked so hard that he lost his own re-election as a congressman from Massachusetts.

Lincoln offered to appoint him as an ambassador, first to the Austria-Hungary Empire. But the Austrian government didn’t want Burlingame—Burlingame was very vocal about the suppression of the Hungarians by the Austrian emperor, so he was persona non grata from the get-go.

So then Lincoln appointed him to be ambassador to China. He left the U.S. in 1861, but he took his time, landed in Hong Kong, and travelled up through China gradually so that he could learn more about the Chinese culture, the Chinese people, the Chinese history. By the time he got to Beijing, it was already 1862.

He made his stand very clear: that China’s sovereignty was to be respected, that he was not there to carve up China for the U.S., unlike the British and other Western powers that were based there. He was very outspoken on what was fair in how to deal with China from a U.S. point of view. In fact, when an American was accused of murdering some Chinese nationals while he was Ambassador, he had him arrested, presided over his trial, and accepted witnesses from China—Chinese witnesses, which was unheard of if you were a British court or a French court or some of the others. He then pronounced him guilty and sentenced him to be executed. (I think he never got executed, because he escaped, but that’s a different story.)

All of that very much impressed the regent behind the throne. His name was Prince Gong, Gong Qing Wang in Chinese. When Burlingame was all set to return to the U.S.—that would have been 1867—Prince Gong went to see him and said, “Mr. Burlingame, we need to go to the Western countries and try to renegotiate the various unequal treaties that have been imposed upon us. We have a team all set to go, but we need someone of international stature to lead this group. Would you be willing to lead it?”

Burlingame immediately accepted the appointment, wrote a letter to his boss, the Secretary of State, William Seward, and said, “Hey, I’m coming back, but I’m coming back as an Ambassador from China,” and that’s what happened.

He came to the U.S. in early 1868, took the train that the Chinese had helped to build, the Transcontinental Railroad, celebrated all along the way, got to Washington, and negotiated a treaty called—in shorthand—the Burlingame Treaty of 1868.

That treaty recognizes the mutual sovereignty, the equal rights of citizens from one country living in the other, the mutual rights to emigrate from one to the other. It was the first treaty that China enjoyed with the Western countries of that kind, and that set a different relationship between the U.S. and China that had lasting effects, even though the Chinese exclusion laws of 1882 canceled the Burlingame Treaty.

Important Mission

One of the lasting effects was the Chinese Educational Mission that was organized, I think, starting in 1871. This mission was organized by a guy by the name of Rong Hong, or in Cantonese, Yung Wing.

He had been brought over [to the U.S.] earlier by American missionaries, and was a graduate of Yale. When he went back to China, he was entrusted by the Manchu government to be the intermediary between the U.S. and China.

He brought a munitions plant—a turnkey plant—from the U.S. to China, and convinced one of the senior officials there that China should send young boys somewhat like himself to the U.S. to get a U.S. education.

Through a lot of effort on his part, he convinced families, mostly families in the Guangzhou area, to send 120 boys to the U.S. to be educated. Thirty boys a year were sent over a four-year period.

It only lasted four years.

The third- and fourth-year batches of young kids never got to finish or attend college, because the internal politics of China became very negative, watching these young Chinese kids becoming “too Americanized,” and losing their Chinese roots and Chinese culture.

So, they brought them back and interrupted their education. Nevertheless, this group of Western-educated young Chinese later on went on to have a tremendous influence, especially after the fall of the Manchu dynasty and in the Republican government.

One of them, who was actually an outstanding baseball pitcher and hitter when he was in the U.S., was appointed Ambassador to Washington. He got to be good friends with Teddy Roosevelt — he was the one who convinced Roosevelt, by the time he got to be President, that the indemnity funds which the Chinese were paying to the U.S. could be better used by sending them back to train and educate Chinese in the American system of education.

Some of that money funded the building of Tsinghua University that we now know in Beijing, and also funded some of the outstanding students from China to be educated in the U.S.2, starting in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, including my father-in-law, by the way.

He was sent to get a bachelor’s degree from MIT, a master’s from Pennsylvania, and a doctorate in electrical engineering from Harvard. Boeing’ chief engineer, Wong Tsu, was one of that batch. He went to Boeing, designed the first sea plane, which the U.S. Navy bought, and that got Boeing started. Then Wong Tsu went back to China. There’s a whole list of people which that particular mission created.

Now back to Burlingame.

After he successfully negotiated the Burlingame Treaty of 1868, he then took the Chinese delegation and went to Europe. He visited the British, the French, and others, trying to convince them that they should do the same.

Of course, none of those countries were interested in recognizing China on an equal sovereignty basis. But they also didn’t want to antagonize somebody of Burlingame’s stature. So, they just sort of fobbed him off and stalled.

Eventually he ended up in St. Petersburg in February of 1870. There he contracted pneumonia and died within four days. He was a few days short of his 50th birthday when he died in the service of China.

This story, by the way, is pretty much forgotten in the U.S. especially, but also in China.

But one of the young reporters that he befriended on his way to China was a beginning reporter by the name Sam Clemens, who later on, as you know, became Mark Twain. And Mark Twain wrote probably the best eulogy on Anson Burlingame when Burlingame died.

So the reason for me and some of the others to start the Burlingame Foundation was really to remind the people of the world, especially in the U.S. and China, that there was a point in time in history when the relationship between the two countries was really exemplary, and we would like to see it go back to that basis again.

Sun Yat-sen and the American System

EIR: Yes, indeed. As you know, Dr. Sun Yat-sen was not educated in the United States, exactly, but he and his brother went from the Guangzhou area to Hawaii to work.

When Sun Yat-sen then came back to China and ended up organizing the Republican movement that led to the overthrow of the dynasty in 1911 and the establishment of the Chinese Republic, his organizing centered on what he called the Three Principles of the People, based Abraham Lincoln’s “government of the people, by the people and for the people.”

So, I’m wondering what you think about the impact of Sun Yat-sen in China and in the United States, how that is impacting things today?

Dr. Koo: Yes, I think it’s fair to say that the influence of Sun Yat-sen, or in Chinese, Sun Zhongshan, continues to be a legacy that is still admired and studied, even in today’s China, even though he was not a leader of the Communist Party movement.

However, while he was alive—and unfortunately, he didn’t live very long after the revolution—he wanted to accommodate both the Kuomintang (the Nationalist Party), and the Communist Party, and wanted them to work together, which was not to be, as we know. No question that his Three Principles is taken directly from Abraham Lincoln; he was an unabashed admirer of the American system and democracy as defined by the U.S.

To a large extent, I think, as you said, the Communist Party, since the founding of the PRC [People’s Republic of China] very much did follow Sun Yat-sen’s doctrine along the way.

One of Hamilton’s principles was the protection of homegrown industries through tariff barriers, and we saw China do that. They did protect their homegrown industries—they called them the pillar industries. They would protect them from competition, up to a certain point. But they also understand that there is an endpoint to when protective barriers, tariff barriers, cease to be working in their own interests.

A lot of other emerging countries don’t understand that. Once they set up the tariff barriers, they don’t seem to have the ability or the wherewithal to remove these barriers, and the long-term consequences of having tariff barriers forever is to keep your own homegrown industries protected, but never competitive, because they’re not able to compete in the open trade situation.

Now, we know that China has surpassed that handicap, because once they joined the WTO, and Premier Zhu Rongji started to remove the protection, it’s a sink or swim situation for the Chinese companies. Those that didn’t make it, that sank, were absorbed in the Chinese economy.

Fortunately, I think the Chinese economy grew fast enough to take up the slack of the under- or unemployed as a result of having to face world competition.

(To be continued)


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