NEWSMAKER: WARREN CHRISTOPHER
NOVEMBER 26, 1996
Secretary of State Warren Christopher discusses President Clinton's recent trip to the Pacific Rim, the administration's decision to take a "new look" at participating in an international force in Central Africa, and whether Boutros Boutros-Ghali should remain the Secretary General of the U.N.
JIM LEHRER: We go first tonight to the Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, who's with us now for a Newsmaker interview about the President's just-completed trip to Asia, among other matters. Mr. Secretary, welcome.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
November 7, 1996:
Several foreign policy experts examine the Christopher's "Legacy."
November 7, 1996:
President Clinton announces the departure of Secretary of State.
October 15, 1996:
The Secretary of State discusses his recent trip to Israel and Africa.
May 17, 1996:
Christopher outlines the status and future of U.S.-China relations.
April 30, 1996:
Warren Christopher talking about 20 hours of rocky negotiations with Syrian President Assad and the dangerous situation in Liberia.
April 22, 1996:
Foreign policy analysts rate Warren Christopher's diplomatic efforts around the world
March 5, 1996:
Christopher talks about the downing of two civilian planes by the Cuban Air Force, and troubles in the Middle East with the terrorist group Hamas.
January 22, 1996:
The Secretary of State updates Jim Lehrer on Bosnia, Russia and the Middle East.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of the Bosnia.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of the Asia.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of Africa.
WARREN CHRISTOPHER, Secretary of State: Thank you, Jim.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Secretary, do you believe U.S. relations with China are better now because of this trip and what happened there?
SEC. WILLIAM CHRISTOPHER: No question they're better, Jim. We hit a rather low point in 1995, after President Li of Taiwan came here for a visit. I think they've been building steadily since then. I've been meeting several times with the Chinese foreign minister, and this meeting between President Jiang Zemin of China and President Clinton was by far the best of the meetings they've had. I think our relationships are much more stable. They're on a good basis now, not that we don't have problems with them, but we've got a solid basis for dealing with our common interests, as well as our problems.
JIM LEHRER: Some of the critics, as I'm sure you have read and heard, of the decision to exchange visits, the two presidents to exchange visits over the next few years, is that the United States has decided that human rights do not matter as much as trade, is that correct? Is that a correct reading of the situation?
SEC. WILLIAM CHRISTOPHER: Human rights matter a great deal to us, but China is a very important country. It's the most populous country in the world, it has a very large economy, as does ours, but we also have very important security issues with China, issues involving North Korea, issues involving the U.N. Security Council, issues of terrorism and drugs, so we need to be able to work with China on security issues, as well as trade issues. Human rights will always be an important issue for us. It probably took more of my time in my three meetings with the Chinese leaders than any other subject, proliferation.
The President raised it importantly, but what these meetings, the meetings between the President and President Jiang Zemin, which are going to take place next year and the following year, is to provide a forum in which we can discuss this broad range of issues. It means that there's a regular basis for getting together. These issues are not a reward, but they're an opportunity for intensive dialogue.
JIM LEHRER: But don't the Chinese take a position that any time the President or you or any other American official raises a human rights issue, that is an attempt to interfere in their domestic affairs?
SEC. WILLIAM CHRISTOPHER: You know, this time we had a very strong engagement. I talked to Premier Li Fung about this issue. We exchanged views. There was a vigorous discussion between the two of us. The same thing was true between the President and President Jiang Zemin. So we've begun to be able to engage on these issues now. There are still considerable gaps between this, but I think that's the way you make progress. You certainly don't make progress by isolating another country.
JIM LEHRER: But do they take the position when you raise these issues that, hey, this is none of your business, or do they actually argue about it? Do they argue specific cases with you?
SEC. WILLIAM CHRISTOPHER: Well, they do both things. They say it's none of your business, and then they start the argument. They recognize that they have pledged the international declaration of human rights, and we discussed a number of things, such as the treatment of prisoners in their jails, such as a possible release on medical parole. We went down a long list of issues. Now, as I say, there are gaps, but we're engaged in those issues, and that's where you make progress.
JIM LEHRER: But do you--do you and the President see human rights as a condition for anything else involved in the relationship, such as trade, such as security, such as anything else?
SEC. WILLIAM CHRISTOPHER: I'll say this, Jim. Our relationships will never reach their fullest potential until we have a better understanding on human rights. So there is that limitation.
JIM LEHRER: Do they know that? Do you think the Chinese know that?
SEC. WILLIAM CHRISTOPHER: I've certainly told them that, and the President's told them that too. Nevertheless, we must be able to engage on the other issues as well. Human rights is important, but so is security and so is trade, so is our ability to deal with them on the wide range of issues. The environment is very important to both countries. As you know, Vice President Gore is going to be visiting China in the first half of next year, and they'll be talking about sustainable development, very important issues. There are some issues that we really can't address without China's help. I would say narcotics are one, terrorism, certainly the environment. We fundamentally affect those issues. We're two very large countries, and to try to isolate China would be very short-sighted and unwise for us.
JIM LEHRER: Karen Elliot House writing today in the "Wall Street Journal," said flat out that China was rapidly on its way to becoming "the" other superpower in the world. Do you agree with that?
SEC. WILLIAM CHRISTOPHER: Well, it's a very, very important country. It has a huge industrial economy. I went to Shanghai on this trip. I've not been there for many years, and the growth in Shanghai is just almost unbelievable, Jim, the construction of buildings, the rapid growth there, so they are a very, very potent country, and I think we recognize we want to see a stable, open--and we recognize it will be a strong and prosperous China as well.
JIM LEHRER: Should we see China and its growing power as a threat to the United States?
SEC. WILLIAM CHRISTOPHER: The important thing for us to do is to have an understanding with them that keeps it from becoming a threat, to make them understand that we can work in harmony, that we can cooperate on these major issues. If we would try to isolate them, if we would try to contain them, that would be a sure recipe for making them a threat. We want to get them on the same side of the table with us on these major issues, such as terrorism and drugs and environment.
JIM LEHRER: But, in other words, see them as a potential ally of the United States.
SEC. WILLIAM CHRISTOPHER: Exactly.
JIM LEHRER: Is that realistic?
SEC. WILLIAM CHRISTOPHER: It's certainly realistic that we can cooperate with them on the main issues. Look what we've done together just on the security front. We worked together on the non-proliferation treaty. It would not have gotten done if we hadn't worked together, the comprehensive test ban--
JIM LEHRER: China had to participate in that, or that wouldn't have happened.
SEC. WILLIAM CHRISTOPHER: That's right. And the same thing is true of the comprehensive test ban treaty. The same thing is true, you know, week in, week out at the U.N.. They're a member of the Security Council. They have a veto as we have a veto. So there are many places where we absolutely have to work together, and we have been able to cooperate. Now, there are these issues where we have differences, but what regular meetings do is give us a forum to discuss those differences.
JIM LEHRER: Well, there are some in Japan, as you know, who are very straight about the fact that they see a growing powerful China as a threat to Japan. How do you read that?
SEC. WILLIAM CHRISTOPHER: I don't think any of the countries out there should regard themselves as threats to each other. They all have a very strong place in that burgeoning economy. Fortunately, I think they all regard the United States as being an important stabilizing factor. Every country there wants us to remain a Pacific power, and one of the great things about the President's trip there this time, he was able to visit three of the countries with which we have security relationships--Australia, Thailand, and the Philippines--and he met with the other two treaty allies, South Korea and Japan. He met with their leaders in Manila, so it was a very impressive and important trip for the President in addition to his meeting with China's President Jiang Zemin.
JIM LEHRER: Do you get the impression that the Chinese see the presence of U.S. troops in Asia as a threat to their security and as something that should not be?
SEC. WILLIAM CHRISTOPHER: I do not. I think they see us a stabilizing factor. I think we're beginning to convince them that we're there not to contain them but to cooperate with them, and that's one of the things that this dialogue with them I think has helped us do.
JIM LEHRER: Just on a realistic basis, do you see--do you come back from this trip expecting there to be more incidents like the firings in the Taiwan Strait of Hong Kong, still like--has a lot of people nervous about next year, its turnover to China, all of these things--are we destined to have a series of problems with China, or do you think that--well, you tell me.
SEC. WILLIAM CHRISTOPHER: Jim, I think we'd have a better chance to minimize those problems than we did before. I'd have to say that any two nations our size will continue to have issues that we have to address between us, and things are changing very rapidly, certainly the reversion of Hong Kong to China is going to be a major factor, but one of the things that both the President and I did--my meetings with the Chinese leaders--was say, look, the whole world is watching how you're going to be handling Hong Kong. They're going to be watching whether you live up to your promise of keeping Hong Kong a place where there's the rule of law, keeping Hong Kong prosperous. And they gave assurances that they believed that Hong Kong should not change in the way it does business. And we'll be watching that when it reverts next July 1st.
JIM LEHRER: Now, Mr. Secretary, on the refugee crisis with Central Africa, where do matters stand now on sending an international force to help?
SEC. WILLIAM CHRISTOPHER: Jim, let me just back off that for a moment and say, you know, that some happy--some positive things have happened there. Six hundred thousand refugees have made their way back from Zaire into Rwanda, mainly on their own, some with encouragement from the non-governmental organizations, so that's a positive factor. And the international community has responded to that by coming up with $700 million to help them resettle in Zaire. Now, I mentioned that because that has fundamentally changed the situation. When the United States under the leadership of Canada pledged to go in, that had not happened.
Now we're having to take a new look at the situation to see whether or not an international force, that is, a governmental force, is necessary, or whether it can be accomplished by the non-governmental organization. Certainly we'd rather see it done on the latter basis. There were urgent meetings over the weekend by military planners in Stuttgart, in Germany. The policy people are meeting today in New York to see whether there is a new and different mission that needs urgently to be done by the international community. We would not be prepared to go there unless there was a clearly defined, doable mission, one that could be accomplished safely and for humanitarian purposes.
JIM LEHRER: And sitting here tonight that does not exist, is that right?
SEC. WILLIAM CHRISTOPHER: Well, sitting here tonight, we're trying to define a new mission now. There are a number of refugees, Jim, that remain in Eastern Zaire, the 600,000 already having lost. The numbers are quite hard to come by with any great precision, but, clearly, tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of refugees remain there in Eastern Zaire. But it's quite a confused picture. Some of them are from Zaire, themselves. Some of them are from Rwanda. Some are from Burundi. So the picture has changed, and we're trying very hard to get our hands around the changed picture to see if there is some equally urgent humanitarian reason that caused us to go before, but we need to take time and get it right and not barge in there on a mission that's been not well thought through.
JIM LEHRER: All right. On another subject, Mr. Secretary, are you and the President having any second thoughts about not supporting a second term for you and Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali?
SEC. WILLIAM CHRISTOPHER: No. That decision was taken by the President several months ago. It was a decision that, really a prospective decision. The President felt that he could not provide the new leadership for the U.N. unless there was a change in the U.N. Secretary General. When he came into office five years ago, he was sixty-nine then, Secretary General Boutros-Ghali said that he would serve only one term. He's now changed his mind about that, but we think that new leadership is necessary, especially for reform, and, as you know, the United States cast one of its rare vetoes to demonstrate the firmness of our conviction that new leadership is necessary. I hope that the African countries and others will come forward with some new candidates who could be considered for that important post.
JIM LEHRER: But right now it's a stalemate, is that right? The Africans have declined to do that thus far.
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Well, the first veto is only a few days behind us now. I hope they'll be coming forward with some candidates. The risk is that if the Africans don't come forward with some other candidates, then that vacuum is not going to remain there very long, and there will be other candidates offered. It's very important that there be somebody who can provide sound, wise, prudent reform leadership at the U.N.
JIM LEHRER: Why is this such an important issue to the United States?
SEC. WILLIAM CHRISTOPHER: Well, it's important, frankly, because the U.N. is important to the U.S. The U.N. does so many things around the world, and it's important they do them well, from UNICEF to the World Health Organization, to peacekeeping. So the U.N. is a fundamentally, extremely valuable organization for the United States and for the world. We're the largest participant by way of paying. We need to see it done well. We'll only be able to command the support of the American people in the Congress if they have confidence that it's a reformed U.N., that it is conducting its business in an efficient way. I'm afraid that perception is not there right now, so the United States, one of the things that President Clinton wants to do in his second term is to provide leadership for a new, more effective and efficient U.N.
JIM LEHRER: And it's going to take a new Secretary General to do it.
SEC. WILLIAM CHRISTOPHER: That's our judgment.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Now speaking of the President's second term, you have decided not to serve in the second term. Tell us why.
SEC. WILLIAM CHRISTOPHER: Jim, four years seem to me to be long enough. I've had a wonderful time. It's been a tremendous opportunity, and I'm very grateful to the President for giving me this opportunity, but it seems to me time to move on. I'll remain active in the international and national affairs, I hope. I think that it is a natural time to move on.
JIM LEHRER: You just felt it was time to go.
SEC. WILLIAM CHRISTOPHER: Yes, sir.
JIM LEHRER: You spent a lot of time with the President in the last several days. Has he chosen a successor yet?
SEC. WILLIAM CHRISTOPHER: I think the President is still pondering that very important issue. He said before he left that he wanted to view the national security team as a whole to see how we fit together--they fit together to make sure that they could work as a team. He's pondering that. I think he's keeping his own counsel at the present time, but my own expectation would be that after he returns and after the Thanksgiving holidays, he'll turn to that, because I know he wants to move into this new--this new term with a good deal of momentum and determination on the international front, as well as the domestic front.
JIM LEHRER: If you were a betting man, Mr. Secretary, where would you put your money?
SEC. WILLIAM CHRISTOPHER: I'd put my money on the President making a wise choice.
JIM LEHRER: What a great answer from a Secretary of State. Mr. Secretary, thank you very much. We'll talk to you again before you finally leave office. Thank you, sir.
SEC. WILLIAM CHRISTOPHER: Thanks so much.