Briefing by Kristoff, Bader, Roth, and Shirk

Office of the Press Secretary
(Beijing, People's Republic of China)

For Immediate Release June 29, 1998


Shangri-la Hotel
Beijing, People's Republic of China

1:58 P.M. (L)

MR. MCCURRY: I wanted you to get some sense -- when we talk about constructive engagement, I think it's important to look at the nuts and bolts of that. And I'm delighted that we have some of the people who have been working in and around the summit to tell you a little bit more about some of the substantive achievements of the President's time here.

We're about halfway through the President's visit to China, and some extraordinary things have happened in the course of the visit, things that I'm not sure that I can explain or any of us can explain entirely. And certainly what's happened during this trip -- the press conference, the national televised address the President made to the people of China today could likely have some profound impact on the way the political culture of China adapts to the changes that are underway here -- clearly underway.

When the President of the United States is trying to find out more and learn more, when the Secretary of State is trying to find out more and learn more, and when the National Security Advisor is trying to bring it all together for proper briefings of the President and others, they turn to those in our government who are really the best experts that we have and who might arguably be the best experts anywhere on what is occurring in this very rapidly changing and dynamic society.

There's a lot that you all have asked those of us who are sort of political appointees of the President about what's happening on this trip, what the President has accomplished, what is the meaning of some of the truly historic things we've seen, but we decided it would be useful for you to have an opportunity just to ask questions of those that we would ask questions of when we're trying to figure it out. And so, for that reason, departing from what is the usual custom here, we're going to bring you the people who have actually been doing all the work at this summit and who I think, now that the substantive portions of the meetings here in Beijing have concluded, can take a breather for a second and step back and reflect on some of it.

So I'm delighted to introduce in no particular order -- and they don't plan to speak. I think they're more interested in hearing what your observations and questions are, because they've been wrestling with it themselves -- but available to you now are Sandy Kristoff, who is the Senior Director of Asian Affairs at the National Security Council; Jeff Bader, the very hardworking peripatetic Director of Asian Affairs at the National Security Council; a second time arounder in the administration, Stanley Roth, who is the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, previously served at the National Security Council himself; and Susan Shirk, who is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs at State.

These are our best China hands and are now in your hands. They reserve the right to disagree with each other.

Q It seems to me that one obvious question is, do you think that the debate, such as it was, on Saturday, and the President's address today reverberates and causes an impact here in China, or is it just an isolated event and we go back to business as usual as soon as the President is gone?

MS. KRISTOFF: I think the debate that happened at the joint press conference and the President's speech at Beida were extraordinary events. I think they were heard widely by not only the American public back home, but by, more importantly, the Chinese people. And I think what it is is evidence of the way in which the President's policy has worked and has been successful in terms of engagement, because what engagement really means is that you can work through your differences, continue to agree to disagree, and continue to fight, not pull any punches, and at the same time, produce results and cooperate in areas where you do have shared interests. And I think that that's what this summit actually showed.

MR. ROTH: Let me say that I think the best answer to that question really is in a lot of pieces that you've been doing, because while we've been busy following around the President, the Secretary of State, and the other officials, many of you have been interviewing Chinese people. And I think the real answer is going to come not from American officials, but, of course, from the people of China. And we've seen repeated quotes in the press from people indicating that it will have profound reverberations from here, that this is being noted, studied, that this is an unusual event, and that they have recognized this. And I think this will be percolating within China for quite some time to come.

MS. SHIRK: I was an academic in my former life, so as a China watcher, I will say that I do think this is a significant political event in China -- a domestic political decision by Jiang Zemin to allow President Clinton to speak directly to the Chinese people at the press conference and in the Beida discussion with the students.

Taboo subjects that had not been discussed previously such as Tiananmen and Tibet were discussed at that press conference. Jiang Zemin even initiated the discussion of Tibet. It's not going to be possible to bury those subjects again. And I'm sure that many of the things that President Clinton said about the connection between freedom and stability by speaking to the Chinese people on their own terms, their own ideas about stability, I think will certainly resonate with a good many people in China.

Now, as to what happens next, we don't know. I don't think it would be wise to say this opens up a whole new era in China, but it was a very self-conscious decision on President Jiang's part to allow this kind of open discussion of previously taboo ideas.

MR. BADER: I'm not going to repeat -- but I think every previous speaker has covered it pretty well -- but just a number or two. We've estimated about 85 to 90 percent of the people of China have access to television. This was covered on television, covered on radio nationally -- both events. None of us are aware of any precedent for this -- for a foreign leader having a live broadcast to an audience throughout China.

Q Can you talk a little bit about the internal discussion about Tibet? I mean, the fact that Jiang discussed the subject openly is very, sort of, tantalizing for me. Did he show any more interest in a private setting in pursuing this in a way that you people feel is meaningful?

MR. BADER: Carol, the private discussions on Tibet -- I think what you saw in public, what Jiang said was very significant. I cannot recall a Chinese leader ever talking about multiple channels of discussion with the Dalai Lama before, talking about openness to dialogue. They've used that phrase, but the context in which it was offered suggested a kind of new readiness to talk if certain conditions are met.

Now, he laid out conditions. Clearly, they haven't closed yet. But we welcomed what President Jiang said, if it was a positive statement. The private discussions -- I think what you heard in public represents the Chinese position, and that was the significant part, the fact that he said it publicly.

Q Given the fact that when Albright was here in April, my understanding was that you felt basically that they were not prepared to move on Tibet at all. What do you attribute the change, the apparent change from then to now?

MR. BADER: I wouldn't go too far in saying that there has been -- I don't want to overplay or -- how should I say -- exaggerate how close they may be to a dialogue. There are still conditions. But the tone of what he said was new, and as I say, the fact that he way public about it before a nationwide audience was new.

The Dalai Lama has said some things in the last few months in his visit to the United States. They were very positive about strengthened U.S.-China relations, about the way to deal with China. I think it is -- one can't know what is going through the minds of the Chinese leaders on this, but it is possible. I'm sure they're observing these statements and it's possible this is a reflection of that.

Q Two things were said before the summit -- one was that the Chinese wanted to give the President a successful summit, and secondly, they wanted to move into a post-Tiananmen phase of relations. First off, is there any sense, any belief that the Chinese permitted the televising of these things as a way to be able to give the President a successful summit. And secondly, are we now, because of this summit, in a post-Tiananmen phase?

MS. KRISTOFF: I think when we, this year, started planning for this summit we had a couple of goals in mind -- one, to produce a summit that had concrete results, that advanced the issue that were most important to us and those we had already outlined in the October summit. I think a summit without results would not have been a successful summit. So I think you've got to sort of zero in on what we actually produced.

One of the other things that I think we had as a goal of the administration for this was to -- and other people have spoken about this -- was to show the American people the complexity of China; that China is dynamic, is changing, has enormous challenges before it. Americans have not seen much of China. And part of the way that we wanted that to happen was to have pictures to go back home. I think the other thing we wanted to do was to have the President have access to the Chinese people, through the joint press appearance, through his speech at Beida, and through a series of events that he's going to do throughout this trip, so that an image of America could be given to the average Chinese. That would not have happened in the absence of the broadcast of the press --

Q You're talking about an American goal, I'm talking about the Chinese goals of wanting a successful summit and wanting to move into a post-Tiananmen phase.

MS. KRISTOFF: And what I'm saying is that over the course of months of trying to set this summit up our description of what constituted a success became as well a Chinese acceptance or willingness or belief, if you will, that the notion of the President having access of images of China going back to the United States, that that was fundamentally an important part of making this summit a success.

Q Are we in a post-Tiananmen phase?

MS. KRISTOFF: Are we in a post-Tiananmen phase? I think we're in the next phase of the relationship. We're going to build on the successes.

MR. ROTH: If you mean does Tiananmen cease to be an issue, the answer is, of course not. If you mean are we working to improve the relationship to increase our strategic dialogue, increase the overall -- of course.

Q I was wondering if you could share with us some of the analysis that has come by your people as they read the Chinese media and newspapers over the last couple of days. It wasn't just that they broadcast this thing live, but there were things that we're published or not published, broadcast or not broadcast province by province. What have you found interesting that we haven't noticed?

MS. SHIRK: I think it's really too soon to have a full analysis. Naturally, we'll be very interested in the response of Chinese people throughout the country to these events and to the President's remarks, and I hope we'll be learning more in the next several weeks.

MR. BADER: I can add a little bit. Frankly, we've been a bit overwhelmed with preparing our leaders for the events and haven't done the full analysis that Susan was talking about yet. But I think we've seen some preliminary indications. The Xin Hua coverage was not complete. They left out significant portions. They had a couple of sentences about -- I saw a reference I think to Sandy Berger saying this was the most candid discussion on human rights that had been held in whatever. So Xin Hua was certainly selective.

I think what this demonstrates in a way is that you had a decision here by the leadership to televise and broadcast these things live, which was a bold decision. But you have a system which still, obviously, is far from a free system and which was selective and restrictive in the way it covered it. But the full analysis, I think we need some time to see just how much of it they're going to cover it and how much they're not.

Q One follow-up. From the guest lists of the state dinner, what can you tell? For instance, were all the members of the politburo there? Does Li Peng take the kind of role you would expect him to as the second-ranking figure?

MR. BADER: I wasn't at the head table, but from where I was sitting, I could see what appeared to be all of the members of the politburo standing committee. I counted -- I think they were all there. So I think that was meant to be a show of leadership unity.

Q Are any of you familiar with how the audience was selected for the Peking University event today, and did it strike any of you that some of the questions on sensitive subjects from the students seemed to be particularly in keeping with Chinese party dogma?

MS. SHIRK: I spoke with the senior White House advance person about this. The seats were divided up by departments. Each department has a certain number of seats, and then they drew lots. So it was a random selection. In fact, he told me that Beijing University had its own press conference. I guess you weren't there to describe the method because there was such interest in how this was done.

MR. ROTH: Let me take a crack at the second half of your question. I think you really miss the significance of the questions if you only look at it as in similarity between some of the official positions. I think what you saw from the students were two different faces of China that exist side by side.

One, I think you saw some real friendship for the United States. You saw that particularly at the second event, where the President got a tremendous round of applause as he worked up to the podium and even as he just walked onto the stage. And I think that was real, not ginned up.

At the same time, I think you saw real evidence of the growing nationalism of the current generation in China itself, and that was reflected in a number of questions. And the President picked up on that in one of his responses towards the end. And so when you see this nationalistic face, whether it be on Taiwan, whether it be on demonstrations at Harvard or any of these other subjects, I think that reflects a genuine trend that is out there. And that's something that we have to deal with in the future.

Q If I could just follow up, does that mean that the current university students don't care about human rights or democracy in the way the 1989 students did?

MR. ROTH: I don't think so. I think that's --

MR. BADER: This is not exactly an answer to your question, but the feedback that we got to the President's speech -- not necessarily university, but generally around town in the soundings we took -- was overwhelmingly positive. And of course a good component of that was about human rights. That suggests to me that there is a tremendous interest in human rights broadly in the society, and that the remarks on that subject were well received. I would be surprised if Beida were the exception to that.

Q There was a question about Taiwan from the students, and the tone was rather nationalistic. Of course, the President gave the standard answer. But according to Sandy Berger the other day when he briefed us, Jiang Zemin spoke at length about the Taiwan issue, and the President in response didn't state the so-called three noes of the "One China" policy. Can you give us a sense of how the Taiwan discussions went and what percentage of the bilaterals that touched on this particular issue?

MS. KRISTOFF: I think that the discussion between the two presidents was not dominated by the Taiwan question. I don't think that you could say that it took up 80 percent of the conversation. The bilateral between the two presidents focused on human rights, nonproliferation, some trade points, and then, from China's side, the Taiwan issue.

As Berger made very clear yesterday, and as we can all repeat here today, the President reaffirmed our longstanding policy on Taiwan. He made it quite clear that our policy is consistent and unchanged -- and no news beyond that.

Q Will somebody from the delegation be going to Taiwan to brief the government there or simply Richard Bush of the AIT, as reported? Any decision made on that?

MR. ROTH: Having worked for Richard -- with Richard Bush and hired him 15 years ago, I think saying "simply Richard Bush" does him a disservice. This is a very significant senior --

Q Well, I'm not trying to denigrate Richard Bush.

MR. ROTH: He will be the briefer.

Q He will. When will he be going?

MR. ROTH: Shortly.

Q I have two unrelated questions -- one on MTCR. Obviously, the Chinese have agreed to go this step toward MTCR because they think it's in their interest. I'm curious why they think it's more in their interest today than it was several years ago when we were sanctioning their missile behavior, and what's changed in their mentality and thinking.

And secondly, when you experts stood around this weekend, what's your best guess as to why they decided to broadcast the press conference?

MS. SHIRK: I think the short answer to that question is that through its own calculations, and through our discussions, China has really come to rethink what its interests are in these regional situations, such as South Asia and the Persian Gulf. And I think that China now has come to see that it has an interest in helping to preserve stability in these regions; that to nurture a close relationship with one particular ally through various mechanisms, including support for its missile program, in the long term is not really in its own interests.

Second, it really has -- China has come to have a real stake in the global nonproliferation regime. I think you see this in the way they've joined all the various regimes one by one. There still are a couple they haven't joined, but we think that their new interest in moving toward joining the MTCR is highly, highly significant. The Chinese do have a record, when they say that they are actively studying joining a regime, of shortly thereafter actually joining it. So we think this is really a major accomplishment of the summit.

Q What about the second half of it? The second part of this question -- why do you think Jiang decided to televise the --

MR. BADER: Okay, the short answer is, we do not know. We do not know. Having said that, President Jiang clearly had to understand that there was going to be a tremendous audience for this event -- I mean, probably hundreds of millions of people, and if not hundreds of millions of people, hundreds of millions of people will hear about it -- or the conversation was all about this, almost immediately.

President Jiang had to be aware of that in making the decision. So I think that President Jiang consciously made a decision -- and President Jiang, having been to Washington and having been to the joint press conference, had a sense of the kinds of subjects that would be discussed, and he made a conscious decision to allow this kind of discussion before a large national audience.

Now, again, I'm going to retreat into the -- it's too early to analyze what this meant, but I guess what I'm saying is, this is significant, and I think it's significant not only in terms of bilateral relations. The earlier question talked about was this a successful summit and how much were they trying to please us. I think this should not be seen solely or even primarily as something that was done for President Clinton, because President Jiang is a Chinese politician and Chinese politicians, like American politicians, make calculations based upon domestic result and domestic impact.

Q I watched the Chinese television coverage, live coverage of your President's speech at Beijing University. And the English translator, I mean, the American translator, didn't sound very familiar with the Chinese language. And even my daughter, who is 11 years old, could not understand her very much your Chinese translator. So at the end of the CCTV, the CCTV announcer said, okay, he was very sorry that the translator was offered by the American side. So they agreed with President Bill Clinton's speech, that we should increase exchange, but the first exchange must be to study Chinese language. And what's your comment about that?

And another thing is, why did your President didn't answer the student question directly. That's why the second question -- you should answer my question directly. Two questions.

MR. ROTH: This is very easy, actually. The President connected very well with the audience at Beida, and you could see -- being in the audience, you could see as a question came, that the President was listening very carefully. He was very comfortable in his answer. He was speaking directly to the students that asked the question. If that didn't come through on television, that's a shame, but within the auditorium I think it was a very connected event. And I don't think that any of the four of us would say anything other than that, yes, certainly, more people should learn Chinese.

Q Can I ask just a simple question regarding Taiwan? The Chinese side usually will link the U.S. arms sales policy to Taiwan to the proliferation issue. Are they still doing so?

MR. ROTH: Simple question, simple answer. No linkage. We did not agree to any linkage. No change on U.S. policy.

Q To follow up on the earlier question about how well the Chinese audience heard it, have you heard anything about technical problems. We've heard that from some of our bureaus, those watching on Chinese television, had great difficulty hearing the audio sound for much of the broadcast.

MR. ROTH: We were all at the event -- so we haven't --

Q Are you going to check into that, because it's possible it's a technical problem or it's possible it's deliberate?

MR. MCCURRY: No indication that it was deliberate. We did check into it. And CCTV was having trouble with the feed that was coming from the interpreter's booth and going into what their main audio feed was. There were times, especially when the President was speaking extemporaneously, where they were trying to work in the booth to figure out what the correct interpretation would be, where the volume dropped down and people really did experience trouble. We've heard that anecdotally from a number of different people.

But as one CCTV executive communicated to someone that we are in contact with, this was new to them. They don't customarily do these types of live broadcasts, and so they were thinking it through.

The other point on the interpretation -- the President wanted these to be very personal remarks and worked on them right up to the very last minute, and there was not the time that one would normally have to prepare a more elegant and sophisticated interpretation, but we're confident that the President's message did get through. And certainly the response was a very positive one.

Q U.S. officials have made clear that the reason why the President did not meet with dissidents is because of fear of retribution, harassment. I'm wondering if the reason why we didn't get any questions from the students at Peking University is the same reason: they feared, for the same reason. Could we realistically have expected them to ask about human rights or sensitive issues?

MR. BADER: First of all, on the dissident question, the President made a decision about what was going to be the most effective way to advance human rights in China and the overall agenda. We think that having the President speak to hundreds of millions of Chinese about human rights was the best way to do so. And I think we had much greater impact doing it that way than various alternatives.

Now, as for the questions, I don't know -- again, this is just speculation. If you picture a foreign leader visiting the United States before an American student audience, the American students probably would not be critical of their own country in their questions; they would be critical of the foreign leader's policies.

So I'm not surprised that there were not questions from the students pointing to problems within China. I think that's not so much unique to China; I think that's kind of a universal phenomenon.

Q Can you address some of the -- are we seeing some dovetailing here? And how do you look at the play-off between allowing the President to go nationwide and talk about these issues so openly? And is China trying to help the President address some of the criticism in the U.S.? Or is there an agenda here domestically with some of the anti-leftist books that we're seeing and some of the movement in that direction?

MS. KRISTOFF: I think in the run-up to the summit the Chinese were well aware of the discordant voices in the United States that were criticizing the President, his decision to come, his entire China policy. I think that on the trips that many of us took to China in the run-up to the summit, including Mr. Berger's trip in early June, we made clear that the only way we could counter the critics was if we had results from the summit -- results on issues that mattered, like nonproliferation, like security questions, like South Asia, like energy and environment.

And so that's what -- I think that that's what we focused on. I think that's what China focused on. And that was literally what the discussions were about for the last six, seven, eight weeks.

Q One more analytical point. If you compare the coverage here to last fall when Jiang Zemin was in the United States with what you've, on a preliminary basis, noticed here so far, what differences do you see?

MR. BADER: I think this was clearly far more extensive, that you heard the entire message. The entire press conference was broadcast, including things that were critical of aspects of Chinese policy. That didn't happen at the previous summit in terms of how it played in China itself -- major difference.

Q Are we anywhere near a stage of China like what we saw in the Soviet Union in the late '80s?

MS. SHIRK: Turn to the academic, right. I don't think it's the same. I think the historical experiences of the two countries are very different. I think China has had a tremendous transformation in its economic life, in its social and cultural life. And I think that this is certainly stimulating a certain amount of political debate. Where it ends up, we really don't know. I think it would really be a mistake to look at the trajectory of the Soviet Union and Russia and say the exact same thing is going to happen in China.

MR. MCCURRY: I want give a special thank you to Sandy Kristoff. That may very well have been her last briefing before she goes out to make a fortune in the private sector.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

China Briefings - June 29, 1998

Press Briefing by Gerwirtz, Gearan, Gee and Turley

Briefing by Kristoff, Bader, Roth, and Shirk

Briefing by Mike McCurry

President and First Lady | Vice President and Mrs. Gore
Record of Progress | The Briefing Room
Gateway to Government | Contacting the White House | White House for Kids
White House History | White House Tours | Help
Privacy Statement


Site Map

Graphic Version

T H E   W H I T E   H O U S E