October 24, 1997
The regional commentators talk about President Clinton's upcoming summit with the president of China.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: The emergence of a China as a power that is stable, open, and non-aggressive; that embraces free markets, political pluralism, and the rule of law; that works with us to build a secure international order. That kind of China, rather than a China turned inward and confrontational, is deeply in the interests of the American people. Of course, China will choose its own destiny. Yet, by working with China and expanding areas of cooperation, dealing forthrightly with our differences, we can advance fundamental American interests and values. One of the great questions before the community of democracies is how to pursue the broad and complex range of our interests with China, while urging and supporting China to move politically, as well as economically, into the 21st century.
The great question for China is how to preserve stability, promote growth, and increase its influence in the world, while making room for the debate and the dissent that are a part of the fabric of all truly free and vibrant societies. Our belief that over time growing inter-dependence will have a liberalizing effect on China does not mean in the meantime we should or we can ignore abuses in China of human rights or religious freedom. Nor does it mean that there is nothing we can do to speed the process of liberalization. Americans share a fundamental conviction that people everywhere have the right to be treated with dignity, to give voice to their opinions, to choose their own leaders, to worship as they please. The United States, therefore, must and will continue to stand up for human rights, to speak out against their abuse in China or anywhere else in the world.
To do otherwise would run counter to everything we stand for as Americans. This pragmatic policy of engagement, of expanding our areas of cooperation with China, while confronting our differences openly and respectfully--this is the best way to advance our fundamental interest and our values and to promote a more open and free China. I know there are those who disagree. They insist that China's interest and America's are inexorably in conflict. They do not believe that the Chinese system will continue to evolve in a way that elevates not only human material condition but the human spirit. They, therefore, believe we should be working harder to contain or even to confront China before it becomes even stronger. I believe this view is wrong. Isolation of China is unworkable, counterproductive, and potentially dangerous.
Military, political, and economic measures to do such a thing would find little support among our allies around the world, and, more importantly, even among Chinese, themselves, working for greater liberty. Isolation would encourage the Chinese to become hostile and to adopt policies of conflict with our own interests and values. It would eliminate, not facilitate, cooperation on weapons proliferation. It would hinder, not help, our efforts to foster stability in Asia. It would exacerbate, not ameliorate, the plight of dissidents. It would close off, not open up, one of the world's most important markets. It would make China less, not more, likely to play by the rules of international conduct, and to be part of an emerging international consensus. As always, America must be prepared to live and flourish in a world in which we were at odds with China. But that is not the world we want. Our objective is not containment in conflict. It is cooperation. We will far better serve our interests and our principles if we work with a China that shares that objective with us.
JIM LEHRER: Margaret Warner takes it from there out into the country.
MARGARET WARNER: And to our regional commentator: Robert Kittle of the San Diego Union Tribune; Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta Constitution; Mike Barnicle of the Boston Globe; Lee Cullum of the Dallas Morning News; and Patrick McGuigan of the Daily Oklahoman. Bob Kittle, what did you make of the President's speech and the basic approach he's taking?
ROBERT KITTLE, San Diego Union Tribune: Well, I think the President has set the right tone here. The whole idea of pragmatic engagement is what we need to promote a relationship with China that will serve U.S. interests in the next century. What we have to bear in mind is that China has one quarter of the world's population, $1.2 billion--1.2 billion people rather. It is rapidly industrializing, and its economy is growing very rapidly. Very early in the next century it's going to emerge as a superpower, and we have a historic opportunity right now to develop a cooperative relationship with China and avoid the mistake that we made after World War II, when the world was divided over a confrontation with the Soviet Union between the United States and the Soviet Union. So I think the idea of pragmatic engagement with China--while bearing in mind that human rights and free trade and fair trade are very important elements of that--is the right way to go.
MARGARET WARNER: Lee Cullum, how do you see it? Is this the right approach?
LEE CULLUM, Dallas Morning News: Margaret, I tend to agree with Bob Kittle. I think it is. I thought the President was very persuasive today when he said that an isolated China is a dangerous China. An isolated China cannot be pressed to stop abusing its people on political and religious grounds, or stop selling weapons to Iran. On a practical level, we really can't afford to be isolated from this great market that's emerging--that has emerged--and we can't afford to have that market isolated from us either. I share the President's hope that through economic growth and technology, cell phones, the Internet, computers, and the rest, the Chinese people will be exposed to new ideas and will demand the right to think for themselves, and the necessary government changes will follow. It's a long-range view of China, but to me it's the right view.
MARGARET WARNER: Pat McGuigan, how did you see the President's speech today?
PATRICK McGUIGAN, Daily Oklahoman: Well, I'm troubled by some of the rhetoric that seems to me to propose kind of a moral equivalence between China and the United States in the upcoming discussions. And I just simply don't believe that's true. I think that the division between the United States and its allies and Russia in the aftermath of World War II was difficult for everyone concerned, but it was the right thing to do.
I certainly favor attempts at peaceful relations with the mainland government, but I believe the primary concern of the United States in that relationship has to be our own security, the security of our allies, people that have stuck by us through thick and thin, and that traditionally we've been close to. And then at a second level, I would put commerce and democratic values, democratic and moral values, coequal. And we need to try to advance all of those in the upcoming discussions. I am much more critical of the mainland government and I think the President should be willing to state some of the problems in pubic, much like Ronald Reagan did. I think the model here is Reagan and not the low-balling, if you will, the vast differences between their government and ours.
MARGARET WARNER: And you mean Reagan with the Soviet Union. Lee Cullum, what was your assessment of the President's--I'm sorry--Cynthia--forgive me--Cynthia Tucker, what was your assessment of the President's speech today?
CYNTHIA TUCKER, Atlanta Constitution: Well, Margaret, I think he probably laid out the best course among the terrible choices available to the United States. When I was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1989, I had a Chinese classmate. His name is Lou Bin Yan. He was a very distinguished Chinese journalist and a well-known critic of the Chinese government. And before he joined us many years ago, he had been imprisoned in one of those terrible Chinese re-education camps for the simple crime of criticizing his government.
And he has not been able to return to China for fear of imprisonment or worse. It troubles me terribly to think that my government is engaged in this constructive engagement, as it were, with a nation that practices that kind of oppression of its own citizens. On the other hand, I think the alternatives are worse. I think that if we isolate China, what we'd have on our hands is a very huge North Korea. And I don't think that anybody thinks that that's a good idea either.
MARGARET WARNER: And Mike Barnicle, what was your view of what the President said?
MIKE BARNICLE, Boston Globe: Well, Margaret, it struck me on the way over here to the TV studio, listening to the news on National Public Radio, that they played the story of the sentencing of Marv Albert today well above this major China initiative or speech by the President of the United States. I think there's a huge education gap in this country about China. I don't think grammar school children and high school children and even college age students in this country know much about China. I think children in Shanghai and Beijing know far more about the United States than we do about their country.
And I think that ignorance spills over into the Congress, and that when large portions of the American public look at China or think about China, they think about it and look at it in terms of movies about Gen. Shanalt and the Flying Tigers or the Chinese spilling over the borders in Korea in the early 1950's, or Tiananmen Square. And our knowledge of China is rooted in a basic fear of the country, rather than the idea that if we sit down and talk with this country, the largest economy in the world, the largest military in the world, we're going to be far ahead of the game as we head into the next century. American businessmen today know far more about this country than American political leaders do.
MARGARET WARNER: So did you see the President's speech today as being a first step in trying to talk to the American public about it, beyond the foreign policy elites, beyond the members of Congress that have been preoccupied with this, and do you think he can sell it?
MIKE BARNICLE: I don't know whether he can sell it, but I think it was a tremendous first step. I think any time we talk about this country and the threat or the promise that it poses for the next century we are well ahead of the game. We're always better off talking because as long as we're talking we're not fighting.
MARGARET WARNER: Pat McGuigan, you said you thought that the President should speak up more publicly about the problems he saw in the Chinese way. I mean, did you think he did that enough today on human rights?
PATRICK McGUIGAN: No. I don't. You know, there is another group, other than American business leaders, who know a lot about what is actually going on in China today and in the whole Asian continent. And those are religious people who have been attempting at least to take the gospel into the mainland. There's already millions of Chinese who are Christians, and they are suffering tremendous persecution. The Cardinal Kuhn Foundation and the Cardinal Menzetti Foundation are two sources of a great deal of information about oppression of Catholics alone on the mainland. Roman Catholics faithful to the Vatican, that is, to the Pope, have to worship in secret.
This is true across the board for many of the denominations. They have to worship legally. You have to belong to what's called these patriotic churches. I believe it would be a singular moment of honor for Bill Clinton if he focused popular and international attention on these issues during his discussions next week.
MARGARET WARNER: Lee Cullum, do you think that's the approach he should take?
LEE CULLUM: Margaret, I think that it's an approach that has to be taken to some extent because I think that the situation that Pat McGuigan was describing is a matter of great concern to many, many Americans. You know, Americans long supported missionaries in China through the Christian churches, and they remain interested in the religious life of that nation. I do think that it has to be admitted that the current regime is capable of great cruelty. But we also have to notice and acknowledge that it's not a circumstance compared to the cruelty of previous regimes.
Just look at the Cultural Revolution of the late 60's and the early 70's. And I think that more people in China are living better today than they have in centuries, certainly this century. So I think that the administration's idea of the rule of law, trying to attack this problem through the rule of law, persuade the Chinese to pass laws and live by them, might be a good way to approach this problem, but it has to be approached, and it has to be approached next week by the President.
MARGARET WARNER: And Cynthia, your view on how the President should address human rights and whether he went far enough today?
CYNTHIA TUCKER: I would expect him to take up those issues quietly with the president of China. The speech he gave to me sounded like the kind of speech you would give to welcome a guest with whom you have had a contentious difficult relationship and whom you're trying to put at ease. I certainly didn't expect him today to stress human rights issues more publicly and more openly, but I certainly expect that the President will--he's not trying to embarrass the man, after all, publicly on the eve of his visit. I do expect that the President will raise those issues with him quietly behind closed doors when he comes.
MARGARET WARNER: And, Bob Kittle, do you think it should be done privately, or more publicly, or both?
ROBERT KITTLE: No. I think it has to be done publicly. The President can't mince words on this. This is an honest difference of opinion, but it's very fundamental to American values that would stress the importance of human rights. And so I think it has to be done publicly. And I think the hopeful thing is that as we push ahead in a cooperative way to encourage economic liberalization in China, human rights will improve as a consequence of that and political openness will follow. I think one of the things we learned from the collapse of Communism in the Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe is that where there is economic liberalization, there are huge demands for political liberalization. And of course, that means an improvement in human rights.
MARGARET WARNER: And Mike--I'm sorry--just quickly before we go, Mike, do you think--even though the Chinese have said they would take great offense, that they regard this as an internal matter, do you agree that the President should speak out very publicly on human rights?
MIKE BARNICLE: Oh, sure. Lay it on the table for them, but they know he's going to do that. But nothing is as powerful as ideas, the ideas of liberty, the ideas of personal profit, as we saw. All we have to do is look to history to see what's going to happen with the Chinese, hopefully, and we don't have to look that far back in history--about seven or eight years ago--when that wall fell in Berlin. That's going to happen in China. It's inevitable.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, thank you all very much. being with us.