President Clinton Discusses U.S.-China Relations in the 21st Century

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release June 11, 1998


National Geographic Society
Washington, D.C.

10:32 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, President Fahey. I don't knowwhat to say about starting the day with this apparition. (Laughter.) Butit's probably good practice for our line of work. (Laughter.) I try toread every issue of the National Geographic, and I will certainly lookforward to that one.

Chairman Grosvenor, members of Congress, members of theadministration, and members of previous administrations who are here andothers who care about the national security and national interests of theUnited States. First let me, once again, thank the National GeographicSociety for its hospitality, and for the very important work that has donefor so long now.

As all of you know, I will go to China in two weeks time. It will bethe first state visit by an American President this decade. I'm goingbecause I think it's the right thing to do for our country. Today I wantto talk with you about our relationship with China and how it fits into ourbroader concerns for the world of the 21st century and our concerns, inparticular, for developments in Asia. That relationship will in largemeasure help to determine whether the new century is one of security,peace, and prosperity for the American people.

Let me say that, all of you know the dimensions, but I think it isworth repeating a few of the facts about China. It is already the world'smost populous nation; it will increase by the size of America's currentpopulation every 20 years. It's vast territory borders 15 countries. Ithas one of the fastest growing economies on Earth. It holds a permanentseat on the National Security Council of the United Nations. Over the past25 years, it has entered a period of profound change, emerging fromisolation, turning a closed economy into an engine for growth, increasingcooperation with the rest of the world, raising the standard of living forhundreds of millions of its citizens.

The role China chooses to play in preventing the spread of weapons ofmass destruction are encouraging it in combatting or ignoring internationalcrime and drug trafficking; in protecting or degrading the environment; intearing down or building up trade barriers; in respecting or abusing humanrights; in resolving difficult situations in Asia from the Indiansubcontinent to the Korean Peninsula or aggravating them. The role Chinachooses to play will powerfully shape the next century.

A stable, open, prosperous China that assumes its responsibilities forbuilding a more peaceful world is clearly and profoundly in ourinterests. On that point all Americans agree. But as we all know, thereis serious disagreement over how best to encourage the emergence of thatkind of China, and how to handle our differences, especially over humanrights, in the meantime.

Some Americans believe we should try to isolate and contain Chinabecause of its undemocratic system and human rights violation, and in orderto retard its capacity to become America's next great enemy. Some believeincreased commercial dealings alone will inevitably lead to a more open,more democratic China.

We have chosen a different course that I believe to be both principledand pragmatic: expanding our areas of cooperation with China while dealingforthrightly with our differences. This policy is supported by our keydemocratic allies in Asia, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Thailand, thePhilippines. It has recently been publicly endorsed by a number ofdistinguished religious leaders, including Reverend Billy Graham and theDalai Lama. My trip has been recently supported by political opponents ofthe current Chinese government, including most recently, Wang Dan.

There is a reason for this. Seeking to isolate China is clearlyunworkable. Even our friends and allies around the world do not support us-- or would not support us in that. We would succeed instead in isolatingourselves and our own policy.

Most important, choosing isolation over engagement would not make theworld safer. It would make it more dangerous. It would undermine ratherthan strengthen our efforts to foster stability in Asia. It wouldeliminate, not facilitate cooperation on issues relating to massdestruction. It would hinder, not help the cause of democracy and humanrights in China. It would set back, not step up worldwide efforts toprotect the environment. It would cut off, not open up one of the world'smost important markets. It would encourage the Chinese to turn inward andto act in opposition to our interests and values.

Consider the areas that matter most to America's peace, prosperity andsecurity, and ask yourselves, would our interests and ideals be betterserved by advancing our work with, or isolating ourselves from China.

First, think about our interests in a stable Asia, an interest thatChina shares. The nuclear threats -- excuse me -- the nuclear tests byIndia and Pakistan are a threat to the stability we seek. They risk aterrible outcome. A miscalculation between two adversaries with largearmies would be bad. A miscalculation between two adversaries with nuclearweapons could be catastrophic. These tests were all the more unfortunatebecause they divert precious resources from countries with unlimitedpotential.

India is a very great nation, soon to be not only the world's mostpopulous democracy, but its most populous country. It is home to theworld's largest middle class already and a remarkable culture that taughtthe modern world the power of nonviolence. For 50 years Pakistan has beena vibrant Islamic state, and is today a robust democracy. It is importantfor the world to recognize the remarkable contributions both thesecountries have made and will continue to make to the community of nationsif they can proceed along the path of peace.

It is important for the world to recognize that both India andPakistan have security concerns that are legitimate. But it is equallyimportant for India and Pakistan to recognize that developing weapons ofmass destruction is the wrong way to define their greatness, to protecttheir security, or to advance their concerns.

I believe that we now have a self-defeating, dangerous, and costlycourse underway. I believe that this course, if continued, not moderatedand ultimately changed, will make both the people of Indian and the peopleof Pakistan poorer, not richer, and less, not more, secure. Resolving thisrequires us to cooperate with China.

Last week, China chaired a meeting of the permanent members of theU.N. Security Council to forge a common strategy for moving India andPakistan back from the nuclear arms race edge. It has condemned bothcountries for conducting nuclear tests. It has joined us in urging them toconduct no more tests, to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, to avoiddeploying or testing missiles, to tone down the rhetoric, to work toresolve their differences including over Kashmir through dialogue. Becauseof its history with both countries, China must be a part of any ultimateresolution of this matter.

On the Korean Peninsula, China has become a force for peace andstability, helping us to convince North Korea to freeze its dangerousnuclear program, playing a constructive role in the four-party peace talks.And China has been a helpful partner in international efforts to stabilizethe Asian financial crisis. In resisting the temptation to devalue itscurrency, China has seen that its own interests lie in preventing anotherround of competitive devaluations that would have severely damagedprospects for regional recovery. It has also contributed to the rescuepackages for affected economies.

Now, for each of these problems we should ask ourselves, are we betteroff working with China or without it? When I travel to China this month, Iwill work with President Jiang to advance our Asian security agenda,keeping the pressure on India and Pakistan to curb their nuclear arms raceand to commence a dialogue; using the strength of our economies and ourinfluence to bolster Asian economies battered by the economic crisis; anddiscussing steps we can take to advance peace and security on the KoreanPeninsula. I will encourage President Jiang to pursue the cross-straitdiscussion the PRC recently resumed with Taiwan, and where we have alreadyseen a reduction in tensions.

Second, stopping the spread of nuclear, chemical and biologicalweapons is clearly one of our most urgent security challenges. As anuclear power with increasingly sophisticated industrial and technologicalcapabilities, China can choose either to be a part of the problem or a partof the solution.

For years, China stood outside the international arms control regime.In the last decade it has joined the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, theChemical Weapons Convention, the Biological Weapons Convention, and theComprehensive Test Ban Treaty, each with clear rules, reportingrequirements and inspection systems. In the past, China has been a majorexporter of sophisticated weapons-related technologies. That is why invirtually all our high-level contacts with China's leadership, and in mysummit meeting with President Jiang last October, nonproliferation has beenhigh on the agenda.

Had we been trying to isolate China rather than work with it, wouldChina have agreed to stop assistance to Iran for its nuclear program,? Toterminate its assistance to unsafeguarded nuclear facilities such as thosein Pakistan? To tighten its export control system, to sell no moreanti-ship cruise missiles to Iran? These vital decisions were all in ourinterest, and they clearly were the fruit of our engagement.

I will continue to press China on proliferation. I will seek strongercontrols on the sale of missiles, missile technology, dual-use products,and chemical and biological weapons. I will argue that it is in China'sinterest, because the spread of weapons and technologies would increasinglydestabilize areas near China's own borders.

Third, the United States has a profound stake in combattinginternational organized crime and drug trafficking. International criminalsyndicates threaten to undermine confidence in new but fragile marketdemocracies. They bilk people out of billions of dollars and bringviolence and despair to our schools and neighborhoods. These are problemsfrom which none of us are isolated and which, as I said at the UnitedNations a few days ago, no nation is so big it can fight alone.

With a land mass spanning from Russia in the north to Vietnam andThailand in the south, from India and Pakistan in the west to Korea andJapan in the east, China has become a transshipment point for drugs and theproceeds of illegal activities. Last month a special liaison group thatPresident Jiang and I established brought together leading Chinese andAmerican law enforcement officials to step up our cooperation againstorganized crime, alien smuggling, and counterfeiting.

Next month the Drug Enforcement Agency of the United States will openan office in Beijing. Here, too, pursuing practical cooperation with Chinais making a difference for America's future.

Fourth, China and the United States share the same global environment,an interest in preserving it for this and future generations. China isexperiencing an environmental crisis perhaps greater than any other nationin history at a comparable stage of its development. Every substantialbody of water in China is polluted. In many places, water is in shortsupply. Respiratory illness is the number one health problem for China'speople because of air pollution.

Early in the next century, China will surpass the United States as theworld's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, which are dangerously warmingour planet. This matters profoundly to the American people, because whatcomes out of a smokestack or goes into a river in China can do grievousharm beyond its borders. It is a fool's errand to believe that we can dealwith our present and future global environmental challenges without strongcooperation with China.

A year ago, the Vice President launched a dialogue with the Chinese onthe environment to help them pursue growth and protect the environment atthe same time. I have to tell you that this is one of the centralchallenges we face -- convincing all developing nations, but especiallyChina, and other very large ones, that it is actually possible to growtheir economies in the 21st century without following the pattern of energyuse and environmental damages that characterize economic growth in thiscentury. And we need all the help we can to make that case.

In Beijing, I will explore with President Jiang how American cleanenergy technology can help to improve air quality and bring electricity tomore of China's rural residents. We will discuss innovative tools forfinancing clean energy development that were established under the Kyotoclimate change agreement.

Fifth, America clearly benefits from an increasingly free, fair andopen global trading system. Over the past six years, trade has generatedmore than one-third of the remarkable economic growth we have enjoyed. Ifwe are to continue generating 20 percent of the world's wealth with justfour percent of its population, we must continue to trade with the other 96percent of the people with whom we share this small planet.

One in every four people is Chinese. And China boasts a growth ratethat has averaged 10 percent for the past 20 years. Over the next 20years, it is projected that the developing economies will grow at threetimes the rate of the already developed economies. It is manifestly,therefore, in our interest to bring the Chinese people more and more fullyinto the global trading system to get the benefits and share theresponsibilities of emerging economic prosperity.

Already China is one of the fastest growing markets for our goods andservices. As we look into the next century, it will clearly supporthundreds of thousands of jobs all across our country. But access toChina's markets also remains restricted for many of our companies andproducts. What is the best way to level the playing field? We could erecttrade barriers. We could deny China the normal trading status we give toso many other countries with whom we have significant disagreements. Butthat would only penalize our consumers, invite retaliation from China on$13 billion in United States exports, and create a self-defeating cycle ofprotectionism that the world has seen before.

Or we can continue to press China to open its markets -- it's goodsmarkets, its services markets, its agricultural markets -- as it engages insweeping economic reform. We can work toward China's admission to the WTOon commercially meaningful terms, where it will be subject to internationalrules of free and fair trade. And we can renew normal trade treatment forChina, as every President has done since 1980, strengthening instead ofundermining our economic relationship.

In each of these crucial areas, working with China is the best way toadvance our interests. But we also know that how China evolves inside itsborders will influence how it acts beyond them. We, therefore, have aprofound interest in encouraging China to embrace the ideals upon which ournation was founded and which have now been universally embraced -- theright to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; to debate, dissent,associate and worship without state interference. These ideas are now thebirthright of people everywhere, a part of the Universal Declaration ofHuman Rights. They are part of the fabric of all truly free societies.

We have a fundamental difference with China's leadership over this.The question we Americans must answer is not whether we support humanrights in China -- surely, all of us do -- but, rather, what is the bestway to advance them. By integrating China into the community of nationsand the global economy, helping its leadership understand that greaterfreedom profoundly serves China's interests, and standing up for ourprinciples, we can most effectively serve the cause of democracy and humanrights within China.

Over time, the more we bring China into the world the more the worldwill bring freedom to China. China's remarkable economic growth is makingChina more and more dependent on other nations for investment, for markets,for energy, for ideas. These ties increase the need for the strongerrule of law, openness, and accountability. And they carry with thempowerful agents of change -- fax machines and photocopiers, computers andthe Internet. Over the past decade the number of mobile phones has jumpedfrom 50,000 to more than 13 million in China, and China is heading fromabout 400,000 Internet accounts last year to more than 20 million early inthe next century. Already, one in five residents in Beijing has access tosatellite transmissions. Some of the American satellites China sends intospace beam CNN and other independent sources of news and ideas into China.

The licensing of American commercial satellite launches on Chineserockets was approved by President Reagan, begun by President Bush,continued under my administration, for the simple reason that the demandfor American satellites far out-strips America's launch capacity, andbecause others, including Russian and European nations, can do this job atmuch less cost.

It is important for every American to understand that there are strictsafeguards, including a Department of Defense plan for each launch, toprevent any assistance to China's missile programs. Licensing theselaunches allows us to meet the demand for American satellites and helpspeople on every continent share ideas, information, and images, throughtelevision, cell phones, and pagers. In the case of China, the policy alsofurthers our efforts to stop the spread of missile technology by providingChina incentives to observe nonproliferation agreements. This policyclearly has served our national interests.

Over time, I believe China's leaders must accept freedom's progressbecause China can only reach its full potential if its people are free toreach theirs.

In the Information Age, the wealth of any nation, including China,lies in its people -- in their capacity to create, to communicate, toinnovate. The Chinese people must have the freedom to speak, to publish,to associate, to worship without fear of reprisal. Only then will Chinareach its full potential for growth and greatness.

I have told President Jiang that when it comes to human rights andreligious freedom, China remains on the wrong side of history. Unlikesome, I do not believe increased commercial dealings alone will inevitablylead to greater openness and freedom. We must work to speed history'scourse. Complacency or silence would run counter to everything we standfor as Americans. It would deny those fighting for human rights andreligious freedom inside China the outside support that is a source ofstrength and comfort. Indeed, one of the most important benefits of ourengagement with China is that it gives us an effective means to urgeChina's leaders publicly and privately to change course.

Our message remains strong and constant: Do not arrest people fortheir political beliefs. Release those who are in jail for that reason.Renounce coercive population control practices. Resume your dialogue withthe Dalai Lama. Allow people to worship when, where, and how they choose.And recognize that our relationship simply cannot reach its full potentialso long as Chinese people are denied fundamental human rights.

In support of that message, we are strengthening Radio Free Asia. Weare working with China to expand the rule of law and civil society programsin China so that rights already on the books there can become rights inreality.

This principled, pragmatic approach has produced significant results,although still far from enough. Over the past year, China has releasedfrom jail two prominent dissidents -- Wei Jingsheng and Wang Dan -- andCatholic Bishop Zeng. It announced its intention to sign the InternationalCovenant on Civil and Political Rights, which will subject China's humanrights practices to regular scrutiny by independent internationalobservers. President Jiang received a delegation of prominent Americanreligious leaders and invited them to visit Tibet.

Seeking to isolate China will not free one more political dissident,will not open one more church to those who wish to worship, will do nothingto encourage China to live by the laws it has written. Instead, it willlimit our ability to advance human rights and religious and politicalfreedom.

When I travel to China I will take part in an official greetingceremony in front of the Great Hall of the People, across from TiananmenSquare. I will do so because that is where the Chinese government receivesvisiting heads of state and government, including President Chirac ofFrance and, most recently, Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel. Some havesuggested I should refuse to take part in this traditional ceremony, thatsomehow going there would absolve the Chinese government of itsresponsibility for the terrible killings at Tiananmen Square nine yearsago, or indicate that America is no longer concerned about such conduct.They are wrong.

Protocol and honoring a nation's traditional practices should not beconfused with principle. China's leaders, as I have repeatedly said, canonly move beyond the events of June 1989, when they recognize the realitythat what the government did was wrong. Sooner or later they must do that.And, perhaps even more important, they must change course on thisfundamentally important issue.

In my meetings with President Jiang and other Chinese leaders, and inmy discussions with the Chinese people I will press ahead on human rightsand religious freedom, urging that China follow through on its intention tosign the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, that it release moreindividuals in prison for expressing their opinions, that it take concretesteps to preserve Tibet's cultural, linguistic, and religious heritage.

We do not ignore the value of symbols. But, in the end, if the choiceis between making a symbolic point and making a real difference, I chooseto make the difference. And when it comes to advancing human rights andreligious freedom, dealing directly and speaking honestly to the Chinese isclearly the best way to make a difference.

China has known more millennia than the United States has knowncenturies. But for more than 220 years, we have been conducting a greatexperiment in democracy. We must never lose confidence in the power ofAmerican experience or the strength of our example. The more we share ourideas with the world, the more the world will come to share the ideals thatanimate America. And they will become the aspirations of peopleeverywhere.

I should also say we should never lose sight of the fact that we havenever succeeded in perfectly realizing our ideals here at home. That callsfor a little bit of humility and continued efforts on our part on the homefront.

China will choose its own destiny, but we can influence that choice bymaking the right choice ourselves -- working with China where we can,dealing directly with our differences where we must. Bringing China intothe community of nations rather than trying to shut it out is plainly thebest way to advance both our interests and our values. It is the best wayto encourage China to follow the path of stability, openness,nonaggression; to embrace free markets, political pluralism, the rule oflaw; to join us in building a stable international order where free peoplecan make the most of their lives and give vent to their children's dreams.

That kind of China, rather than one turned inward and confrontational,is profoundly in our interests. That kind of China can help to shape a21st century that is the most peaceful and prosperous era the world hasever known.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

What's New - June 1998

National Ocean Conference

Equal Pay Act

Family Re-Union Conference

Portland State University Commencement

Ocean Conference

South Asia

Thurston High School Remarks

National Ocean Conference

Presidential Scholars

Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Act

ISTEA Legislation

SAVER Summit

Speaks to DLC

National Ocean Conference, Plenary Session

New Efforts to Protect Our Oceans

The Opening of the Thoreau Institute

Oceans Announcements

Fight Against Drugs

Welcoming Ceremony in Xian, China

Korean President Kim Dae Jung

Roundtable Discussion in Xiahe, China

President Kim of South Korea

Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act

21st Century Community Learning Grants

Pritzker Awards Dinner

Nominations of Bill Richardson and Richard Holbrooke

Remarks to Religious Leaders

Family Re-Union Media Advisory

Meeting With Economic Advisors

Conference Address

A Fair, Accurate Census

New Data On Teen Smoking

Roundtable Discussion Remarks

Landmark Agricultural Bill

Conference Remarks

Denver Broncos, Super Bowl Champions

Family Re-Union Press Release

U.S.-China Relations in the 21st Century

Roundtable Discussion in Shanghai, China.

MIT Commencement Address

Commencement Address to MIT Graduates

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