Reaching Out - China
November 25, 1996
Jim Lehrer moderates some analysis of an upcoming meeting between U.S. and Chinese leaders, in which possible changes in the course of relations could ensue.
JIM LEHRER: Now to the U.S. and China part of the Asian trip story. We get four views of the weekend meeting between President Clinton and his Chinese counterpart. Arthur Hummel is a former ambassador to China, a retired career Foreign Service officer. Sidney Jones is the executive director of Human Rights Watch Asia. Senators Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, and Dirk Kempthorne, Republican of Idaho, just returned from a Senate trip to China and other Asian countries. First, Senator Leahy, have relations with China been improved by the fact that these two presidents met the other day?
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY, (D) Vermont: Oh, I think that that is a step, and it is an improvement, and obviously, we're doing the follow-up things. The vice president is going there; the defense minister of China is coming here. There will be the heads of state meeting beyond. I mean, these are steps and will be seen as positive steps in China, and I suspect will be seen as positive steps here. But, as Bruce Stokes has said earlier, describing another aspect, it is still "only" a step forward and a relatively small step forward.
JIM LEHRER: A small step forward, Senator Kempthorne?
SEN. DIRK KEMPTHORNE, (R) Idaho: yes, but a very meaningful step forward. The Senate trip that you referenced, that Sen. Leahy and I and other Senators had last week, in China, where we met with the president of China, any time that you can sit down across from another individual and have a good conversation and look each other in the eye, you're going to improve your relationship so that when you have to deal with one another--and in this case, U.S. and China have to deal with one another, I think there will be less understanding. And so that dialogue has begun, and that's very important.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Ambassador, do you agree?
ARTHUR HUMMEL, JR., Former Ambassador, China: Yes, I do. I think for a long time we've had a problem about how to balance our relations with China. A lot of people want to change and force changes now, particularly since the events of Tiananmen in 1989. At the same time, I think it's become more obviously, particularly in the last year, that we also have to get along with China, and we've got to try and do both. The American public demand that we must keep pressure on China, particularly on human rights, and we have to do that, but at the same time, we have to look through a long-term strategic situation when China will become a genuine power, superpower, and someone in Asia with whom we really ought to find ways to get along with, even though we disagree about a lot of things.
JIM LEHRER: Sidney Jones, what do you think of the meetings of the two presidents?
SIDNEY JONES, Human Rights Watch/Asia: We're concerned that the change of visits in a way throwing away the last form of leverage that the United States has. We're not saying that there should be an economic embargo of China. We're not saying there should be no summit, but we are saying that there should have been some kind of conditions placed on the announcement before it was made so that there's some concrete human rights improvements coming before an exchange of visits takes place.
JIM LEHRER: And you think that could have been engineered, or that could have been negotiated?
SIDNEY JONES: It could have been negotiated, and as I say, I think that the announcement means that the principle has been agreed to without any of the preconditions having been met. We still have a crackdown taking place in China. We have more arrests. We have heavier sentences. We have threatening moves toward Hong Kong. This was an opportunity to try and get some commitment from the Chinese government before going ahead with the summit.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think about that idea, Sen. Leahy?
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: No. I--and I yield to nobody in my concern for human rights in China. But you have to have the meetings to raise these issues. Each one of us in the Senate delegation raised the issues of human rights in China.
JIM LEHRER: With the president?
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: Oh, yes, in fact, we had dinner with him, and we raised it at that. We raised trade issues.
JIM LEHRER: Did you say some of the things that Sidney Jones just talked about?
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: And human rights. I raised condition about a young named Nuang Chapelle, who's a Tibetan, studied in Vermont, and has been arrested when he went back to Tibet to film and record the culture, the music there. I thought it was an egregious thing and should be looked at. But it's just like--
JIM LEHRER: But, excuse me, that's an interesting story. What did he say? What did the president say when you raised it?
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: He was not overjoyed that I raised that. I reminded him that I had raised it with his deputy foreign minister earlier in the afternoon, who was sitting there, and that I fully expected a response. I got the impression that we will get a response, but you could only raise these if you are meeting, and I think there are so many areas where we need improvement. We need improvement in trade. We have too great a--
JIM LEHRER: Let's just stop on the human rights. Let me go back to Sidney Jones on that. What the Senator says, if you want to do something about human rights, you've got to talk to them first. Do you disagree?
SIDNEY JONES: No, we don't have any objection to that. What we're saying is talking is not enough. When we were dealing with intellectual property rights, it wasn't talk about the values of intellectual property that brought about some kind of negotiated agreement. It was actually threatening 100 percent tariffs, and that's what brought about the change. This time, we're not suggesting economic pressure, but we are suggesting that you've got to use something that the Chinese government wants very badly, which is a summit, to bring about some concrete improvements.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Kempthorne, where do you come down on that? Why not get something in exchange for this exchange of visits from China?
SEN. DIRK KEMPTHORNE: The summit Sidney referenced, they want to talk about Most Favored Nation status. They want to talk about the World Trade Organization, a number of things. We want to talk about that, as well as nuclear proliferation, security in that region. So all of these things, in balance, will be discussed but never, Jim, at any of the meetings that we had with Chinese officials did we shy away from discussing human rights. And one of the things that I'd like to just point out is I think so much of the time we focus with regard to the demonstration in Tiananmen Square of how that demonstration was shut down by that government, but I also want to remind us the fact that there was a demonstration in the first place by so many Chinese citizens and that one of the symbols that they held up in Tiananmen Square was the Statue of Liberty, demonstrators, Chinese demonstrators quoting from Lincoln and Jefferson, by their exposure to the United States to these different opportunities to open up these channels of communication, they are realizing what they don't have. That's healthy. I think that the reform that we hope will happen in China will come about as more of the citizens are exposed to the opportunities that come through these different channels.
JIM LEHRER: And you think that the president of China coming here and the president of the N going to China will further that.
SEN. DIRK KEMPTHORNE: I do. I do, because I think that also will lead to other avenues of additional trade. The more that we open trade opportunities for U.S. companies in China, the less restraint or control I think the Chinese government will have over their own economy, and, again, that brings about a free marketplace.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Ambassador, how do you see the connection between the human rights problems--you agree that there are human rights in China, do you not?
AMB. ARTHUR HUMMEL, JR.: Oh, indeed, of course there are.
JIM LEHRER: So what is the connection between that and the way the United States Government should treat the Chinese Government?
AMB. ARTHUR HUMMEL, JR.: The connection really lies in the--on the American side in the very strong desire of the American people and the administration to change China, to change these human rights practices. The question is how. I'm sorry, but I have to disagree with Sidney Jones and what she said that it could have been negotiated that we would obtain some human rights modifications in China's position before we would allow a series of summits to be scheduled. I'm sorry, but the evidence doesn't seem to me to be that way, and--
JIM LEHRER: You mean, the evidence is that China doesn't react that way?
AMB. ARTHUR HUMMEL, JR.: China is not--I'm afraid that this is going to be a very serious problem in our relations, one that the American public isn't going to understand very well, I'm afraid, and it will be very difficult for any president to handle, and that is suppose--and I think it's likely--the Chinese are absolutely adamant about their human rights attitude. They seem to have spit in our eye sometimes. Just on the eve of Clinton's previous visit, they reacted very sharply. They--and I'm afraid that they are going to continue to arrest more Chinese as a demonstration of their intransigence on this issue. Now suppose they continue to be intransigent, as I'm afraid they may be, this presents a very serious difficulty for us in trying to balance the relationship between forcing change and getting along with somebody that we really ought to get along with.
JIM LEHRER: Sidney Jones, where would you draw the line between the need to get along with this huge country and the need to try to get them to change on human rights?
SIDNEY JONES: I think that it's true that we have to get along, but I see nothing incompatible with taking a forceful stance on human rights issues, because ultimately what's good for human rights is also good for the trading relationship. What we're seeing now is not just dissidents getting arrested. It's also people who've been involved in business deals. It's officials of the International Monetary Fund. If these kind of people can get arrested, it doesn't say much for the business environment in China either. I think what we're trying to do is to get China to play by the international rules in human rights, as well as in trade, as well as in security affairs. And if we send a message to China that we're going to back down on human rights when the Chinese become intransigent or when it becomes an irritant in the relationship, what lessons are the Chinese Government going to learn about security in trade? Are they going to just exert more pressure in order to get the United States to back down on those issues as well?
JIM LEHRER: So you see the evidence differently. You believe that China, if pressured properly on human rights, would, in fact, change its human rights policies?
SIDNEY JONES: I think we have evidence of that in 1993 and 1994, when at the height of the Most Favored Nation status debate, there were prisoners being released, because there was a credible threat being made by the United States. There are negotiations underway with the International Committee of the Red Cross. Those negotiations stopped as soon as the pressure eased up.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Leahy.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: Well, I would argue that one of the things we can do is in the trade, itself. China has a huge balance of payment.
JIM LEHRER: $50 billion, as Bruce Stokes just said.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: With us. I mean, we're paying for a great deal of their economy. Basically what they say is we'll export to you whatever we want, but we'll only let you export to us what we want you to. Now, we know that some of their goods are produced through prison labor, basically through slave labor. I think that all of the major trading partners are to present at least a unified front, what kind of goods we'll buy, how we'll buy them. That, in itself, could force a major change in human rights, a very positive change in human rights to stop the exploitation of prison labor and stop the kind of working conditions that we see there. Now, that's something that China should have to expect if they're going to be part of a real world trading organization.
JIM LEHRER: Now, Sen. Kempthorne, did you get the impression from your visit that the Chinese understand that point, not on the human rights thing but on the trade part, that they've got to play by the rules? We've got a $50 billion deficit, and they've got to play--they've got to be fair in their dealings with us?
SEN. DIRK KEMPTHORNE: I think they fully understand, but that doesn't mean that they're not tough in their position. I think they're going to be tough, but they fully realize that there's no way that I believe the United States could support China becoming part of the World Trade Organization with the current inconsistencies in place, because if we freeze those and freeze the status quo, we'll be at a terrible disadvantage five and ten years from now. So there are a number of things that have to be corrected with regard to trade now before they become part of the World Trade Organization, and I think that also on the table will be other issues from human rights--that point--nuclear proliferation. There are a number of things on the table that we still have significant leverage, but we have to be discussing it.
JIM LEHRER: And what is our leverage?
SEN. DIRK KEMPTHORNE: Leverage are the things that they want. They want to have Most Favored Nation status.
JIM LEHRER: On a permanent basis. They get it now on a yearly basis, more or less.
SEN. DIRK KEMPTHORNE: That's correct. They also want to be allowed entry into the World Trade Organization. They feel that's very significant for them.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think about that, Mr. Ambassador? If we want to do business with China, and we want them to play by the rules, how do we get ‘em to do it?
AMB. ARTHUR HUMMEL, JR.: Well, we tell them what the price is of their joining the WTO.
JIM LEHRER: So you agree with the Senator on that?
AMB. ARTHUR HUMMEL, JR.: I do, indeed, and I think--
JIM LEHRER: Because that's very important to them, right?
AMB. ARTHUR HUMMEL, JR.: Yes. It is middling important. They're doing quite well the way they are, and there are penalties for joining the WTO, opening up their state industries to competition from the outside as we force the opening of their market to us and to other countries. We are not alone in this issue. We are alone in many issues relating to China, because we tend to be tougher on them for a variety of things, but on this issue, our partners in Western Europe and in Southeast Asia agree with us entirely, that we cannot allow the Chinese just to walk in easily, and the normal negotiations with set timetables for the relaxation of different tariffs in different sectors.
JIM LEHRER: So you think that's where the weapon--that's a crude word to use in this respect--but that's the way--if we're going to get China to play the way we want them to play, that's where you think it ought to be, rather than in a human rights thing?
AMB. ARTHUR HUMMEL, JR.: This is just one thing.
JIM LEHRER: One thing.
AMB. ARTHUR HUMMEL, JR.: And I'm afraid it's not as potent a lever as some people have suggested. As I said, the Chinese are ambivalent. The costs are quite high for them.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think of that, Sidney Jones, using that?
SIDNEY JONES: I think that if we're going to play hard ball with the Chinese and the world Trade Organization, why aren't we willing to play hard ball on the human rights front? The two in some ways are linked, and, as I say, I think that a good business environment depends on protection of human rights. It depends on the rule of law. We should be forcing China to play by the rules on international human rights as well and using the summit as leverage to try and get some of those rules observed is one way to go about it.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Well, thank--yes.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: And I think on the summit, human rights will be a major part. It has to be a major part as long as the United States is a party.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Well, thank you all four very much.