|CHINESE PREMIER ZHU|
April 9, 1999
In a Newsmaker interview, China's Prime Minister, Zhu Rongji, discusses NATO action in Kosovo, charges of nuclear espionage, anti-China sentiments in the U.S. and human rights issues.
JIM LEHRER, Premier Zhu, welcome.
ZHU RONGJI, Chinese Premier: Thank you. It's a pleasure to meet you. And in 1990 when I was visiting the United States as the mayor of Shanghai, I had the honor of being interviewed by Mr. MacNeil for this program. So now, nine years later, it's a pleasure for me to come back once again to be interviewed by you on your program. I think this is a very meaningful thing. And I know that your News Hour has a very high viewership, and I hope through the program to be able to convey my regards to the people of the United States.
And in the few days since I have been in your country I have seen everywhere that the American people have given me their understanding and their support, especially my new and old friends here who have shown a great deal of support to me. And so through this, I feel that I can see a bright future for U.S. and China relations. And it's for that reason that I accept this opportunity, with pleasure to be on the program.
|China's objection to NATO action in Yugoslavia.|
|JIM LEHRER: Thank you, sir, very much. China has been very
critical of the NATO bombing over Kosovo. Why do you object?
PREMIER ZHU: On this subject our president, Mr. Jiang Zemin, has repeatedly stated the Chinese position, namely that we object to taking military action in the former Yugoslavia because this is interference in their internal affairs. We strongly feel that the only correct way is to go back to a political negotiation, because a political discussion will be the only method which will bring about a resolution to this problem. And we are not eager to see more people dying or suffering very grievous losses, regardless of which side these people may be on.
JIM LEHRER: Does China support the action of President Milosevic and the Yugoslavia government.
PREMIER ZHU: Our statement does not touch on that issue at all. We are only commenting on the action.
JIM LEHRER: The Wall Street Journal in an editorial the other day said that the Communist government of China has more in common with the dictatorship of Milosevic than it does with the democracy of the United States and other NATO countries, is that true?
PREMIER ZHU: First of all, it would be wrong, or at least inaccurate, to refer to the government of China as the Communist government, because we are not looking at this issue from an ideological viewpoint. We are looking at this from the basis of what is right and what are international standards.
JIM LEHRER: The issue for NATO, as you know, Mr. Premier, is ethnic cleansing and murder of innocent civilians, that is what, in fact, are the grounds on which the bombing began. Do you believe those reports that are coming from Kosovo?
PREMIER ZHU: I hadn't read those reports. But our, the basis for our stand is that, considering our own experience, we know that when there are ethnic conflicts between people these can often be very cruel and very savage. And based on our experience in handling these relations between different ethnic groups, we feel that the best approach is to have a sense of a broader unity where different groups can deal with each other on the basis of friendship and equality. And that way both sides will be able to enter into friendly negotiations to resolve these issues. For either side to use armed action will not be able to solve the problem.
JIM LEHRER: In this case specifically then, you do not believe that the use of military means by NATO and the United States was justified at all?
PREMIER ZHU: Well, I don't know what your basis is. But our feeling is that to interfere in the internal affairs of another country and ethnic conflicts belong in the category of internal affairs, to use military action in that circumstance is not correct.
JIM LEHRER: So it's none of the world's business when something like this happens?
PREMIER ZHU: Well, I don't know exactly what happened there.
JIM LEHRER: When there are allegations and proof, offered proof, at least, that innocent civilians have been forced from their homes, murdered, that even if it's an ethnic conflict involved within a country, the rest of the world, through any means, United Nations, NATO, whatever, should not interfere military under any circumstances, ever?
PREMIER ZHU: You know, I have seen two types of reports. One type of report says that there is armed conflict between both sides of this ethnic conflict. The other says that it's the Yugoslav military forces which are taking action against the Albanian minority. But I am in no position to judge which types of these reports are the more credible. Secretary Albright said that she would give me some materials about this, but I haven't received them yet. And so I have no basis to make a judgment.
|Using force in the modern era.|
|JIM LEHRER: But the, now the American people are trying
to come to grips with all of this, as well as the rest of the world about
what is the proper role of countries like the United States in matters
like this. What advice would you have to the American people and to the
leaders of the American government about how force should be used in this
PREMIER ZHU: Well, based on historical experience, I would still argue that military force does not lead to a resolution of these problems, particularly in the Balkans which has also been known as the Tinder Box of Europe. And we feel that only through political negotiations will an acceptable resolution be achieved, and we feel that this is the best thing for the people of Yugoslavia, for the people of the United States and for the people of the whole world. And we would be against either ethnic cleansing or ethnic conflict, armed conflict between two ethnic groups. We feel that either of those would be very unfortunate things. Only negotiations will provide a way out. And if you look at the experience of this past century, no war there has led to a good outcome.
JIM LEHRER: So it would be a mistake, then, to read China's position as being in support of Milosevic in Yugoslavia against NATO, is that correct?
PREMIER ZHU: We are only just discussing the issue as it is.
|Anti-China atmosphere in the United States.|
|JIM LEHRER: You said yesterday that the failure of the United
States and China to reach an agreement on trade was the result of a kind
of anti-China political atmosphere in this country. What in your opinion
has caused this atmosphere to come about?
PREMIER ZHU: You should know more clearly than I. I think you are in a better position than I am to see what's causing the anti-China sentiment in the U.S. Because actually, the discussions for China's entry into the WTO and our bilateral trade negotiations have been proceeding along to the point where we are very, very close to reaching an agreement, on the verge of signing an agreement. But because of the current political atmosphere my understanding is that President Clinton feels that this would not be an opportune time to finalize it. But we are still trying our best, and we hope that at some point we will be able to at least come to some form of agreement.
|China's human rights record.|
|JIM LEHRER: Some of the political atmosphere issues, for
instance, human rights. Are you aware that among American political leaders
and others, that the criticism of Chinese human rights policies covers
the entire political waterfront here, Republicans, Democrats, conservatives,
liberals, they all speak in one voice on this issue. Were you aware of
that? Do you understand that to be the case?
PREMIER ZHU: I am fully aware of that. But I think that I should acknowledge that China still has shortcomings in its handling of human rights. But at the same time, I think that you should also be acknowledging that we have made improvements in human rights, that there have been very significant improvements in human rights and that the human rights enjoyed by the people of China right now are unprecedented. I think the problem is that you fail to see the fact that human rights in China are improving from day to day and that oftentimes you are misled because there may be some people who don't have a very good understanding of China who paint a picture where the situation seems to be getting worse from day to day.
JIM LEHRER: But there are, of course, recent specific incidents where Chinese citizens have been jailed for attempting to organize political parties, for using the Internet to express opposition to the government or trying to practice their religions, that sort of thing. And those incidents have been reported in very specific terms here in the United States, and you are aware of that, are you not, sir?
PREMIER ZHU: Of course I am aware of this. But I think that they have been greatly exaggerated. Yesterday, I met with four American religious leaders and we talked about the issue of freedom of religion and they pointed out to me that the Catholic church and various Protestant denominations had developed in China over the course of one or two centuries. Yet at the beginning of the founding of the People's Republic in 1949, there were only about 800,000 members of these churches, whereas now the number of believers has gone up to ten million. What's more, the number of bibles printed in China each year now has reached 20 million. So how could this be possible if there were no freedom of religion?
JIM LEHRER: Does it annoy you to be asked questions about this and to be criticized by Americans?
PREMIER ZHU: Well, my job is to come here to the United States and explain China to the people of the United States in order to let them get whatever they have against China off their chest. And so I don't feel annoyed by any kind of questions that people might put to me. What really worries me is that because time is so short that it's not possible for me to put into words the true and total picture. And so I often fear that I might be misleading the American people. But at the same time, I do believe that they have shown great understanding.
JIM LEHRER: Speaking of understanding, do you understand why these kinds of issues are so important to so many Americans?
PREMIER ZHU: I think that kind of concern is very good. I said yesterday that the American people are a people who passionately love freedom and that they are a people who are open and forward looking and full of vitality, and I think it's a very good thing for people like that to be concerned about China.
The unfortunate thing is that very few people are able to actually hear our voices, and I am grateful to you for giving me an opportunity to speak directly to the American people. But I don't know if I am doing a good job or not.
JIM LEHRER: We will leave that to the audience obviously.
|Investigating the nuclear espionage charges.|
|On another issue related to the political
atmosphere now between the United States and China, the issues of allegations
having to do with nuclear technology espionage, illegal contributions
to Democratic political campaigns, et cetera. You told President Clinton
yesterday that China would cooperate in these investigations. Does that
mean that you will allow U.S. investigators to interview members of the
PREMIER ZHU: Well, I need to ask this question, then. There are many issues in the United States right now which relate to China. Would the United States also be willing to let Chinese investigators come and question people in the United States?
JIM LEHRER: Someone else obviously would have to answer that question.
PREMIER ZHU: If they said yes to us, I would say yes to them; if they said no to us, I would say no to them.
JIM LEHRER: So you are open to a real investigation of people who work for you, in fact, because you said yesterday, you didn't know anything about it but that you would help the U.S. determine whether or not there were people in the Chinese government who actually did these things?
PREMIER ZHU: Of course, because our goal is to figure out once and for all exactly what happened. But in order to decide how we are going to check this out, we need to engage in political discussions on a basis of equality to decide how we would go about doing this.
JIM LEHRER: Are these issues serious to you, are they as serious to you as they are to many Americans, particularly in the political world here?
PREMIER ZHU: If you were to ask my honest opinion, I would say that this is no big deal.
JIM LEHRER: Do you understand why it's a big deal here?
PREMIER ZHU: Well, as I was saying, Americans are upset with China on many things. But you know when people are upset, oftentimes they don't think in a very careful way about many issues.
JIM LEHRER: You said America, some Americans are upset with China. Are the Chinese people upset with the Americans? Have you got some bones to pick with us that you would like to talk about?
PREMIER ZHU: Maybe we have even more things to be upset with the U.S. about. You know, particularly because of the issue of Kosovo, many Chinese were against my coming to the United States.
JIM LEHRER: They thought it would be seen what, as an endorsement of the U.S. policy if you came?
PREMIER ZHU: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: And what did you say? Why did you decide to come anyhow?
PREMIER ZHU: I told them I should go as scheduled.
JIM LEHRER: Did you talk to President Clinton about Kosovo?
PREMIER ZHU: Before I met with President Clinton, Secretary Albright came here to this very building and talked to me for over an hour about that very subject.
JIM LEHRER: Did she want to know what you thought, or did she want you to know what she thought?
PREMIER ZHU: She wanted to have me say that I agreed that what she was doing was right.
JIM LEHRER: Did you?
PREMIER ZHU: No. I said to her, show me the materials, and she hasn't given me the materials yet.
JIM LEHRER: I see. I see. But did you make your case, as you did with me a moment ago, to her as to why China had this position on Kosovo, why you objected to what NATO was doing?
PREMIER ZHU: President Jiang Zemin has already made four statements on the subject and the content of his statements was the same as what I said earlier.
JIM LEHRER: So are you going to go back to the president now in Beijing and transmit any information about what's happening in Kosovo and in any way re-examine China's position as a result of this trip?
PREMIER ZHU: Well, if I were to be provided with this documentary evidence about ethnic killings, I would certainly bring this material back with me and share it with President Jiang, but regardless of whether or not there has been ethnic murder, I feel that to intervene in the internal affairs of a country from external military action is a wrong way to try and achieve a settlement.
|Defining the U.S.-China relationship.|
|JIM LEHRER: In a more general way, help the American people
try to understand what kind of relationship China wants to have with the
United States. Do you want to -- should we be friends? Should we be allies?
Should we be competitors? Should we be -- what is the relationship that
China wants for the United States, and why?
PREMIER ZHU: Well, as to the type of relationship that China and the United States seek to build between them, I think that this was made very clear in the exchange of visits between President Jiang Zemin and President Clinton, namely a relationship which is a constructive strategic partnership.
JIM LEHRER: But there are, there are some Americans, as you know, who believe there is something that America has to fear from China. What do you say to them?
PREMIER ZHU: I would say to them, what are you afraid of? President Clinton said the United States has about 6,000 nuclear warheads and that China has 20 or 30 of them. Actually, I honestly do not know exactly what number China has, but I would think that President Clinton may be clearer than I am about that number. So my question would be, what are you afraid of? China cannot possibly constitute a threat. And if you mean should you fear China as an economic competitor, then I should say your economy is 10 times the size of our economy. Your per capita income is 10 times our per capita income, and it would take a very, very long time for China to yet become even relatively a major economic power. And besides, even if China were to become an economic power, why should the United States fear it, because the stronger that China becomes, the bigger the market for the Americans? And you should note the fact that at the welcoming ceremony at the White House I observed that the American people love freedom and the Chinese people love peace. But the Chinese people have no history of aggression against other countries, although we have often been the victims of aggression. Of course, under no circumstances, should you take me to mean that the American people don't love peace or that the Chinese people don't love freedom. I just wanted to emphasize certain things.
JIM LEHRER: So this problem that now exists between the United States and China is a temporary thing and is not serious, and it's not going to get any worse? How would you characterize this at this particular period that you yourself have described as rather difficult when you came?
PREMIER ZHU: Well, there definitely is an anti-China current existing in the United States right now, and therefore this constitutes a rather significant obstacle to developing that friendly cooperative relationship that Presidents Jiang and Clinton spoke about, and not only is it an obstacle, but there is a danger in backtracking in this relationship. So, of course, it is a serious problem. But on the other hand, if you look at it in terms of the broad flow of history, then you would have to say that no matter what this obstacle is, it's only a small element in the course of events, and so when we arrived in Los Angeles it was pouring rain, but there was sunshine everywhere when we got to Washington so I feel that like the rain, this too will pass.
JIM LEHRER: Thank you very much.
PREMIER ZHU: Thank you.