After a background report, Elizabeth Farnsworth leads a panel discussion on the value of President Clinton's trip to China: what it means now and what it could do for the future.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now, how the president's China trip looks to our regional commentators: Bob Kittle of the San Diego Union Tribune; Lee Cullum of the Dallas Morning News; Patrick McGuigan of the Daily Oklahoman; Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta Constitution; and Mike Barnicle of the Boston Globe. Cynthia Tucker, what's your assessment of the trip so far?
CYNTHIA TUCKER, Atlanta Constitution: I think the president's trip to China has been very successful. I think it perhaps has been successful enough even to silence some of his harsh critics. There have certainly been some disappointments along the way, including China's insistence on rounding up some dissidents, but the president's lively exchange with Jiang Zemin over human rights, which was broadcast live, his speech at the universities broadcast live were both tremendous coups for the president.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Bob Kittle, successful enough to satisfy some of the president's harsh critics?
ROBERT KITTLE, San Diego Union Tribune: I think it may satisfy some of the critics, Elizabeth. The real value in this trip was not the government to government contacts, which were pretty standard summit fare, but, rather, the real value was in the people to people dialogue that the president started. And I think one of the things that allowing the president to address China openly, to address ordinary Chinese citizens, without censorship and without the government control, is to open a door in China to a genuine debate on some of these issues that the president raised, human rights, political freedom, religious freedom, the crackdown in Tiananmen Square, repression in Tibet.
And, you know, as Mikhail Gorbachev discovered, ideas once unleashed are pretty hard to control. And that may be the situation we see in China. My hope is that the president's trip and the dialogue that he initiated will boost pressures on the Communist government to allow greater openness and political freedom.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mike Barnicle, do you agree with that, that the people to people aspect of this is what's really important?
MIKE BARNICLE, Boston Globe: Sure. I think that's important, Elizabeth, but, you know, I think it's interesting if we flip the equation here, how would we feel as commentators if the Chinese premier, a delegation of Chinese, came to America and started talking to us about our problem with human rights in America? I think we've fallen under the delusion that a President of the United States, any president, is going to be able to go to any foreign country and suddenly transform the Chinese government, Chinese society, a far different culture than ours, into some variation of Berkeley, California. It's not going to happen. This has been a terrific trip that will play out five, ten years from now. We don't know what will happen?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Lee Cullum, do you agree with that, that maybe people have expected too much?
LEE CULLUM, Dallas Morning News: Yes, Elizabeth. I think that Mike makes a very good point. Of course, as the Chinese, themselves, say, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I do think that the president's forthrightness on Tiananmen Square and on liberty and on Tibet will have resonance for the Chinese people. I think it will take a very long time, and those who expect that China is going to become a free society like the one that we know are simply delusional, I think. If we can get a Singapore-like regime in China eventually, that would be wonderful. That's probably all we can hope for at this moment. And I think the president's trip might have pushed things in that direction.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Lee, when you were on the show before the trip, you said it's a mistake for the president to go to Tiananmen Square? Do you feel that the comments he made-I mean, with Jiang Zemin and the other comments to the students and elsewhere-have made up for that?
LEE CULLUM: Yes, I do. I did express concern about the president going to Tiananmen Square. I thought it was a matter of principle that he should have stayed away, but the truth of the matter is there was no ill effect, it seems to me, and I do think that his remarks were forthright and candid, and I believe that he did what had to be done on this issue.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Pat McGuigan, how do you feel about Tiananmen Square? You also were somewhat critical of the president's going there?
PATRICK McGUIGAN, Daily Oklahoman: Yes. I still think that was a mistake. I stand by the comments I made before the trip on that, but I think that that's an example of the importance of political symbolism and political rhetoric is also very important, and the president's rhetoric has at times on this been excellent on this trip. The Daily Oklahoman, today we had an editorial that's probably among the three or four most complimentary we've ever written about this president. Now, naturally I want more, and I'd like to see him push more aggressively for self-determination, as he will, for the people of Taiwan.
His remarks, although they are in some ways merely a restatement of existing policy, which has always been to believe and recognize and assert that there's one China, Taiwan, I don't think that they're very interested in having a future like Singapore's, as Lee just alluded to. They'd like to have a future where they can expand on the freedoms they have achieved. So there's some criticisms I can offer, but the comments on Tiananmen Square, the comments that he made when he attended a little church, the comments to the students, many of those were very good, and I think he deserves credit for saying them, because that's one of the roles of an American president.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Bob Kittle, you also were critical and you said that you were afraid that the president would be used as a kind of puppet by the Chinese. Are you still concerned about that?
ROBERT KITTLE: Well, I think to some extent, Elizabeth, when we're just talking about Tiananmen Square, that did happen. But I must admit that in my view the president's live televised press conference, his live speech to the students, his radio broadcast today in Shanghai, overshadowed whatever happened in Tiananmen Square in terms of its importance, but he did a good job of articulating his position.
He represented American ideals well in most of the public settings, and what I didn't anticipate, and I think few of us anticipated, was that he would have the open forum of a live television, uncensored ability to speak to the people. And that was very important, and that's what the value of this trip is.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Cynthia Tucker, California Democrat Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, said this is mostly atmospherics. You don't feel that way. You feel this is more substantive?
CYNTHIA TUCKER: I think that the president got agreement with the Chinese government on some of the issues that were very important that he wanted to talk about, including issues of nuclear proliferation. But I also think Mike was quite on target when he said there is no reason to think that a government like China's-and we're talking about a country that is anxious-just because an American president goes over there and starts making demands that they are suddenly going to start operating differently. And I think that is very na´ve.
I do think President Clinton was practicing real politics. And real politics is very clear that China is the most populous country in the world, and it is an emerging superpower. We need to try to persuade them to take our point of view on several issues from human rights to nuclear proliferation, and I think that this was a very small step in that direction. Nothing dramatic that's going to bloom right now, but perhaps ten or twenty years from now we'll see the fruits of this trip.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mike Barnicle, where do you come down on this question of the atmospherics? Do you feel like this went beyond atmospherics, what happened in China?
MIKE BARNICLE: Sure I do. I mean, the entire presidency, the entire world is filled with atmospherics. This is atmospherics, us appearing on TV. The fact is we talked about Tiananmen Square. Tiananmen Square is history. It's their history, not our history. Freedom is contagious, and that's what President Clinton, I think, helped bring a piece of to the Chinese this week. He's talking about what it's like to be free. In the end the economy is going to free everyone, or it's going to imprison them. It's the largest culture in the world, the largest economy in the world.
They're already a world power, so time is going to tell what's going to happen. And to say, you know, it's anything more than atmospherics, of course, it's atmospherics, but, you know, we're going to find out what happens to China five and ten years down the road. And it's better to talk with them and try to gain an understanding of them and have them gain an understanding of us than it is to isolate them.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Pat, history. Last night on the show Bette Bao Lord called this meeting and the events in China historic. Would you go that far?
PATRICK McGUIGAN: Well, I think that in terms of the grand sweep of history Richard Nixon's visit was probably more dramatic in changing the dynamic and the relationship between the two countries, but I certainly credit the president for, again, carrying some strong, positive, pro-freedom, pro-liberty messages.
And I remain a bit greedy. I look at the course of history, a word we're using right now, and, you know, this country has only been under Communist domination, under Communist control, a Communist regime, if you will, since 1949, and nothing is inevitable that that remain necessarily the state of affairs. We could have a successful peaceful transition to a degree of not only a freer market but also greater political freedom. Perhaps that'll happen over time.
And for us not to press for those things and not to press for greater freedom for the people of China to determine their own future and for Chinese people on the island of Taiwan to determine their future would be a mistake. I credit the president for what he has done in certain aspects of this trip, and I want him to just push even more in the last couple of days.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Lee, the San Francisco Chronicle today said Clinton in China, master of diplomacy. Would you go that far?
LEE CULLUM: Yes. Yes. I think that his diplomacy was simply superb. You know, there are those who criticize the president for walking on eggs in his press conference with Jiang Zemin, the president of China. I don't think that was the case at all. You know, China is a society that puts a high premium on manners. I'm from a part of the country that does the same thing, and I know that to bring up the subject at all can have great impact. And so I think he struck the right tone, he struck the right note, and that he did have a considerable effect. And I think that it will be felt for quite some time. He was a master of diplomacy. I think that's true.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Bob Kittle, a master of diplomacy?
ROBERT KITTLE: Well, I think on this trip for the most part that's a fair characterization. I would have liked to have seen a few other things as well. I think it would have served the president's aims had he met with dissidents in China, which he declined to do. But, in general, yes, I think because of the president's ability to communicate to ordinary Chinese citizens-and I keep coming back to that-but that's what I think he accomplished extremely well, and that would be what we remember about this trip in the years ahead.
And perhaps he has sown a few ideas here that will take root and the Chinese government may find it difficult to control political ideas once they begin to circulate them this way. So that's what the president, I think, deserves some credit for it.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Cynthia, do you agree with Bob that perhaps the president should have met with some dissidents?
CYNTHIA TUCKER: I think that that would have been very difficult, very embarrassing for the Chinese government, who were, after all, going around, rounding up dissidents, even as Clinton was there. I think Clinton and the diplomatic corps, the United States Diplomatic Corps in China, expressed the proper degree of disappointment that that had taken place. The Chinese government somehow didn't quite get it right in their efforts to try to avoid embarrassment. They created more embarrassment.
But I think the president struck the right tone. He's walking a tightrope here. He's trying to persuade the Chinese government to our point of view, while nudging them along on things that they are very recalcitrant about. And Lee is right, even bringing up the subject of Tiananmen Square publicly is something that in China is just not done. I think that there were many Chinese who want greater freedoms who were surprised, a bit taken aback that the Clinton had gone that far. So I think that President Clinton struck the proper balance while he was on that trip.