Stern Words for China
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RAY SUAREZ: From the ancient Japanese city of Kyoto, President Bush launched a four-nation tour of Asia, a trip that will be highlighted by an economic summit in Korea and a visit to China.
In the former Japanese capital, the president delivered what White House aides said was the major speech of the trip. He said freedom in China and elsewhere in Asia was critical for cooperation across the Pacific.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: And the best way to strengthen the ties of trust between nations is by advancing freedom within nations. Free nations are peaceful nations; free nations do not threaten their neighbors; and free nations offer their citizens a hopeful vision for the future.
By advancing the cause of liberty throughout this region, we will contribute to the prosperity of all and deliver the peace and stability that can only come with freedom.
RAY SUAREZ: The president praised not only South Korea, but also Taiwan for successfully transitioning from autocratic rule to democracy.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Like South Korea, economic liberalization in Taiwan helped fuel its desire for individual political freedom because men and women who are allowed to control their own wealth will eventually insist on controlling their own lives and their own future.
Like South Korea, modern Taiwan is free and democratic and prosperous. By embracing freedom at all levels, Taiwan has delivered prosperity to its people and created a free and democratic Chinese society.
RAY SUAREZ: President Bush then issued this challenge to the Communist Party chiefs in Beijing:
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: As China reforms its economy, its leaders are finding that once the door to freedom is opened even a crack, it cannot be closed. As the people of China grow in prosperity, their demands for political freedom will grow as well. The efforts of Chinese people to improve their society should be welcomed as part of China’s development.
By meeting the legitimate demands of its citizens for freedom and openness, China’s leaders can help their country grow into a modern, prosperous and confident nation.
RAY SUAREZ: He also expressed hope the U.S. and China would resolve their trade differences and said the freer China is at home, the more welcome it will be abroad.
By the time President Bush reached South Korea, the second stop on his tour, China’s foreign minister told reporters China’s government would not pay attention to outside pressure.
RAY SUAREZ: What kind of reaction is President Bush’s speech likely to continue get in China, and around Asia? We get two views. Liao Tienchi is deputy publisher at the China Information Center, a non-profit organization promoting free speech and expression in China. She was born in mainland China and grew up in Taiwan. And Wonhyuk Lim is a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. He has written extensively about Korean and Northeast Asian economic development.
And Wonhyuk Lim, here we have an American president critical of China on the eve of a visit to China and holding up Taiwan as a positive example. What do you make of the Bush speech?
WONHYUK LIM: I think it was an interesting speech in that it emphasized the essential value of freedom quite a bit. But the style in which he delivered and the way he held up Taiwan as a model for China is not going to really play well in China, I don’t think.
RAY SUAREZ: The specific example of Taiwan you mean?
WONHYUK LIM: Yeah.
RAY SUAREZ: Why is that?
WONHYUK LIM: I mean, Taiwan is regarded as a renegade province by China. It is a sovereignty issue, and although I credit the people of Taiwan for advancing freedom and improving democracy, there’s also the “one China” principle that the United States has agreed to, and the Chinese leadership is not going to, I mean, even the Chinese people themselves are not going to be pleased with that kind of statement from the United States, statement by a president.
RAY SUAREZ: Liao Tienchi, what do you make of the speech?
LIAO TIENCHI: If the people in China have the freedom of speech and freedom of expression, I think President Bush will get a standing ovation from the whole nation.
Then you see there are a lot of journalists and authors who have been thrown into jail just because they have written something, some critical articles on the Internet. There are over 60 authors being kept in jail and there is no freedom of speech, no freedom of expression.
So I think it is really important of President Bush that he pick up this topic; it is very skillful of him to speak, to just touch these very sensitive topics in front of his — before he even touched Chinese ground.
RAY SUAREZ: So are you drawing a distinction — saying that the reaction would be one way among the elites and the leadership and a different reaction among the great masses of the people of China?
LIAO TIENCHI: I don’t think so. I just said President Bush will get a standing ovation from the whole Chinese nation if they can express their feeling freely. Not only the elite need freedom, but also the general people, and their right to express their emotion and to struggle for their right are so under pressure, so I think they really appreciate the speech of President Bush.
RAY SUAREZ: Well you heard Wonhyuk Lim refer to Taiwan as China does as a renegade province. Is it important for an American president to raise the issue of Taiwan, keep Taiwan in the forefront of the conversation even as he’s visiting China?
LIAO TIENCHI: I think it is extremely important that President Bush raise Taiwan issue and take Taiwan as a model for freedom and democracy. A lot of people, especially a lot of specialists in western said well, China is a country with one — with 800,000 million peasants; they don’t understand what democracy, what freedom is. It is wrong. People know that.
Taiwan has got rid of this Chang Kai-shek kind of dictatorship and go past very peacefully to transform to — very peacefully to a democratic country, and I think this is very good example for all the Asian countries. And it is, actually it is a pride — actually it is a Chinese pride.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, you have heard Ms. Liao say that if Chinese were free to express their opinion, President Bush would be widely applauded.
Is the information market open enough in China so that the president’s words would be widely reported there and the average person with access to a radio might know that he said these things?
WONHYUK LIM: I’m sure the average person would know that he said this. But the problem is that China also is, has a rich tradition and that the way the statement was delivered was somewhat patronizing and that may not play well with the Chinese people.
And also I would like to add that if I were to comment on Taiwan in the context of freedom in China, out of something like advancing freedom in China with improve the chance of peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue and sort of stop at that instead of holding out Taiwan as a model for China to emulate.
RAY SUAREZ: In your view, is the American president being hard enough on China when it comes to things like ethnic rights in Tibet, religious freedom?
LIAO TIENCHI: It is not a problem to be hard enough or not. I think President Bush is very skillful in dealing with this topic, you know.
When the Chinese authorities, the Beijing regime, if they think just that — hear that topic, human rights, they are just angry and afraid because they know exactly what they are doing is wrong. The people are against it. You cannot deprive the people of their freedom.
And President Bush has actually touched this topic very skillfully and very carefully. I don’t think he hurt any kind of emotion of the Chinese people. He has said Taiwan is — he always emphasizes — Americans recognize and acknowledge this “one China” policy.
This touched that point and he said Taiwan is a model for democracy. He didn’t say China should change — should develop after this model of Taiwan. He just emphasized it. Taiwan is a model for freedom and for democracy and that’s the model not only for China but for many other Asian countries.
RAY SUAREZ: Well I ask because inside the United States there’s a difference of opinion on whether the United States should stress economic relations in the belief that a rising economy will automatically make China freer or whether the United States needs to continue to emphasize human rights inside China as part of its relationship with the Chinese.
LIAO TIENCHI: Economic prosperity will not bring democracy or freedom automatically. These are really two different things. I don’t think that you say we should strive for the better or for even stronger business or economic connection or tradeship with China and then democracy will arrive. It’s not that way.
And I think the president, he is the leader of the whole nation, and he is not the general manager of a big company. He has something he has — not only to do his best to promote the business relations between these two countries but he also has to show the integrity.
And I think morality is somehow a kind — belong to a part of the American policy. It is a kind of American tradition in the politics. So I think it is important that President Bush stand on this point.
RAY SUAREZ: Wonhyuk Lim, the president did during his speech make a special point of mentioning freedom of religion in China. Does this continue to be a sore point in Chinese-American relations?
WONHYUK LIM: Yes. But I think the Chinese leadership is likely to regard that part of the speech as more for domestic consumption in the United States than sort of, you know, tough advice to China, really because, I mean, there are people who appreciate tough rhetoric on China coming from the United States’ president.
But, I mean religious freedom is an important issue, but I don’t think, I mean, as the Chinese officials said after the speech, I think their attitude basically says they’re going to disregard that statement.
RAY SUAREZ: And as China strengthens its own relationships with countries around the Asian rim and all over the world, does the United States policy toward China matter as much? Do other countries put a great emphasis on the state of Chinese-American relations as China becomes a stronger country?
WONHYUK LIM: I think America matters still quite a bit. But the problem is, as China is strengthening bonds with its neighbors and countries outside Asia, America needs to do something to present a strategic vision for Asia and how, what kind of new order it’s going to craft in the region and that part of thinking, that kind of vision is missing from President Bush’s speech.
RAY SUAREZ: In Australia, in Indonesia, in Thailand, countries that have close ties to the United States, but have strengthening ties with China, is it as important what America thinks of China as it used to be?
LIAO TIENCHI: Yes, it is. China becomes very powerful not only economically, but also militarily. So it is important to have this balance, American on the one side and China as the direct neighbor. So how America takes its leadership in the free world is really important.
China, Vietnam, Korea and Cuba are the last four un-free countries. So it is important to show the Asian neighbor country America is still taking the lead.
RAY SUAREZ: Guests, thank you both.
LIAO TIENCHI: Thank you.
WONHYUK LIM: My pleasure.