October 29, 1997
Amidst protests outside the White House, President Clinton and Chinese President Jiang met for two hours and then spoke to the international press. After a background report by Tom Bearden, Jim Lehrer talks with three China experts about the summit, the issues resolved and those still disputed.
JIM LEHRER: Three views of all of this now: Winston Lord was Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia in President Clinton's first term; Paul Wolfowitz held that post in the Reagan administration; Sidney Jones is executive director of the Human Rights Watch Asia.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
October 29, 1997:
A background report on China's President Jiang Zemin's state visit.
October 28, 1997:
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright previews the China summit.
October 27, 1997:
The upcoming summit with China has focused attention on its president, Jiang Zemin.
October 8, 1997:
China is constructing the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River, but what will be the social and environmental costs?
July 29, 1997:
The Senate considers allegations that the Chinese government tried to influence the '96 elections through illegal campaign contributions.
June 24, 1997:
The House votes to maintain China's Most Favored Nation trading status, ignoring calls to impose sanctions for human rights violations.
May 19, 1997:
President Clinton says he wants to renew China's Most Favored Nation trading status for another year.
April 16, 1997:
Does China's leadership have a grand strategy to dominate Asia in the coming years and view the U.S. as a long term enemy?
March 27, 1997:
Sandy Berger discusses VP Al Gore's trip to China, and possible attempts by China to influence the 1996 elections.
Browse the NewsHour's Asia Index
Visit the embassy Web site of The People's Republic of China
A remarkable exchange over human rights.
Mr. Lord, is that as remarkable an exchange in a news conference as it appeared to those of us just watching?
WINSTON LORD, Former State Department Official: Absolutely. I have attended many of these conferences over 25 years, and that was one of the more interesting ones. I thought the president was very firm and very eloquent on the subject of human rights, as well as spelling out why this overall engagement policy is in the national interest, even as we deal with that difference.
JIM LEHRER: Ms. Jones, what was your reaction to what the President--both presidents said about human rights?
SIDNEY JONES, Human Rights Watch Asia: I think President Clinton was right in terms of demeanor, the stern, unsmiling approach. He was right in terms of rhetoric, but there was no substance as far as the actual product on human rights. It was lose-lose-lose as far as we were concerned.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Wolfowitz.
PAUL WOLFOWITZ, Former State Department Official: I think it's good that these leaders are meeting. This relationship is incredibly important, and it's much better to discuss these differences face to face and in the way we saw in the press conference, which I assume is also the way they did it in private sessions. I think if we're going to make any progress--and Sidney's right--the tangible progress isn't there yet. It's going to begin with that kind of direct discussion.
A higher profile for human rights issues.
JIM LEHRER: From your experience, when you were with the Reagan administration and later with the Bush administration in a different job, was the discussion about human rights as blunt as it was there today?
PAUL WOLFOWITZ: It wasn't--didn't have anything like the same salience before Tiananmen it has had since. In fact, I remember when President Reagan was in China, he gave a speech indirectly addressing the question of human rights, talking about American values and American constitutional democratic principles. It was supposed to have been broadcast live. The Chinese censored this and it caused a small stir, which actually probably led 3 million senior party cadres to ask to see a copy of the President's speech. It was at a lower, lower level of salience at the time.
JIM LEHRER: But, Mr. Lord, what about Ms. Jones' point? The rhetoric's terrific but nothing out of the human rights era really came from this summit, did it?
WINSTON LORD: I agree with her completely. I was disappointed, not overly surprised. I think the administration's pursuing human rights on three levels. The long-term hope and expectations that opening up that society, opening to the outside world, economic and other interaction, the impact of the information age, and television, et cetera, will lead to greater political freedom, but that's clearly not sufficient. In the medium-term the administration is emphasizing legal reform, exchange of lawyers and judges. That was mentioned today. And that should also help on the human rights front. But on the immediate front, it's pressing on getting the Chinese to talk to the Dalai Lama, freeing dissidents. Religious leaders are going to go over and talk to the Chinese, signing human rights covenants. It's pretty thin gruel. We've got to keep pressing it; we've got to keep pressing human rights at all three levels.
Can President Clinton do more to improve human rights in China?
JIM LEHRER: Do you believe, Ms. Jones, that there's something else besides those three things that could be done to make more movement, to stimulate more movement on human rights?
SIDNEY JONES: I think there can be. I think from the kind of product that came out on the nuclear agreement it was clear that a huge amount of preparation went into that effort before the summit actually took place. I think perhaps the return visit of President Clinton to Beijing next year is an opportunity to exert leverage to say this visit is not going to have a date set for it unless there are very concrete improvements on releases, access to prisons, and so on.
JIM LEHRER: What do you say to President Jiang's position that there is a fundamental difference? I think President Clinton said too. It's a fundamental difference. This isn't a matter of politics. It's a matter of fundamental difference.
SIDNEY JONES: I think that the press conference that was held at the National Press Conference yesterday with about 17 Chinese saying that we believe in the universality of human rights, that President Jiang Zemin does not represent our position, and the fact that there are a lot of people who've tried to express different views from Jiang Zemin, who've gotten themselves locked up inside China, who are proof positive that this relativist position doesn't really work.
JIM LEHRER: It works at the governmental level, you're saying, but not at the popular level?
SIDNEY JONES: That's right. The people who use that position are people who hold power who don't let their own views be challenged. So I think that the argument itself is fundamentally flawed.
Are human rights universal?
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that, Mr. Wolfowitz?
PAUL WOLFOWITZ: I think it is, and I think the President made the right argument in saying China is on the wrong side of history on this one. And I would think ultimately there is some chance of persuading them that movement is in their own interest. That's the only way movement is going to happen. It's not going to happen because of our pressure; it's going to happen because their persuaded that it's in their interest to go that way.
JIM LEHRER: When the President said on the right side of history, did you interpret that to mean that he means--he was referring to the Soviet Union--and Eastern Europe and being a Communist, authoritarian state. It doesn't look good in terms of a future?
PAUL WOLFOWITZ: I guess it's one of those phrases you can hear many different ways. I've heard it as saying, if you want to be an advanced economically, technologically successful country, you can't lock your people off from information, you can't lock them off from having ideas, and as they have ideas, and by the way, as they get richer, experience says they demand democracy, they demand a role in their government. And, no, I don't think he was talking about consigning them to the dustbin of history, if that's the phrase you had in mind.
WINSTON LORD: Let me--
JIM LEHRER: Yes, go ahead.
WINSTON LORD: I would reinforce those themes. The President made clear that this is a universal aspiration of people. Chinese and Asians care about freedom, just like westerners do. And this phony Asian values debate is not confined to China. Secondly, Sec. Albright made clear yesterday and the President today that we can't have a fully flowering relationship with China as long as this issue sticks between us, and the Chinese have got to understand that. And thirdly, he appealed, as Paul just pointed out, to the self-interest. You cannot in an age of Internet, faxes, computers, television, microchips, expect to develop a modern economy, close off information, not have the rule of law to maintain investment, not have a free press to attack corruption, not allow people to dissent when they're undergoing painful transitions and expect to have either stability or progress.
SIDNEY JONES: But what does it mean to have a fully flowering relationship, that we can't have a fully flowered relationship with China unless they make progress on human rights, because it seems to me that direction has all been precisely towards a full and flowering relationship with China. So what is it that the Clinton administration could do concretely, except to set preconditions on these very symbolic high-level meetings that are taking place? The other thing that they could do very concretely is to make it very clear now that because there was no progress during this summit the administration will go ahead with the resolution that the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva, which it's delayed making a firm commitment on, because it says it's waiting to see what progress will come. Well, if you wait forever, and you don't get any progress, you don't have much of a policy left.
Is this the right time for a summit?
JIM LEHRER: So everything, in your opinion, should be contingent on human rights progress?
SIDNEY JONES: Not everything. And I think it's very useful to have these high level exchanges. I think--
JIM LEHRER: Including the summit?
SIDNEY JONES: Except for the summit. I think that in some ways having the presidential hotline, fine; having military exchanges, fine; having legal education and training of judges, absolutely wonderful; but if you don't use this kind of summit, which the Chinese badly wanted, and get the kind of improvements that you're seeking, you're wasting a wonderful opportunity to exert leverage.
Will today's agreement on nuclear proliferation become reality?
JIM LEHRER: Let's go to the one thing that was accomplished today. And that's this--
PAUL WOLFOWITZ: Supposedly.
JIM LEHRER: Supposedly. All right. Okay. Which was announced, all right.
PAUL WOLFOWITZ: It was announced.
JIM LEHRER: And the President--we heard the excerpt there--the President said it's win-win-win.
PAUL WOLFOWITZ: Well, we know very little, first of all. I'd say this, all that was announced was the President's brief comments. There isn't an agreement out there to look at. Let me just say--to put it simply--I'm concerned because the same day that this is announced, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman announced that China has made it clear to Washington that China maintains a strict distinction with respect to nuclear technology between peaceful and other kinds of technology.
JIM LEHRER: And we don't, do we?
PAUL WOLFOWITZ: Not as far as Iran is concerned. We do with respect to many countries. The most critical case here is the critical case of Iran, which is a country that supports international terrorism, that declares its hostility to the United States. It is arming and equipping itself against us, and when the Chinese help them with nuclear technology, I don't believe there's a meaningful difference between peaceful and the other kind.
JIM LEHRER: So you think we shouldn't have made this deal today?
PAUL WOLFOWITZ: Well, if it's based on that distinction, then I think we actually have compromised our own standards.
JIM LEHRER: Compromised our own standards, Mr. Lord?
WINSTON LORD: No. I disagree with Paul on this. First of all, we are promoting American business and clean air and technology, and on the security front, which Paul was addressing. The nuclear agreement depends only on performance in the nuclear export area. The Chinese still have troubling activities on missiles, on chemicals, and some other areas. In this area they have made significant progress, and it reflects the value of engagement on this issue. Five years ago the Chinese were some of the worst proliferaters in the world. They still have some troubling aspects, but they've signed a Non-Proliferation Treaty; the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; Chemical and Biological Weapons Conventions; helped us on Korea. So the general frame work is there. Then, in addition, take Iran as an example. We have used sanctions. We have imposed some and threatened others on Iran and Pakistan, and incentives--this agreement--and geopolitical arguments to move the Chinese so that they're now cutting off aid to Iran and Pakistan. We'll have to watch it very closely. And the reason they're doing that is their self-interest. They're beginning to conclude, in my view, that do they really want top arm a country like Iran, which can threaten shipping in the Gulf, drive up energy prices, when China's going to have to import a million barrels of oil probably by the year 2000 from that region, and it's going to be very expensive for them? So I think a combination of engagement and arguments along these lines, plus sticks and carrots, have moved the Chinese--that this is a significant agreement for security as well as our environmental and economic goals.
PAUL WOLFOWITZ: I think one has to be very skeptical about that conclusion, that the Chinese have concluded the Iranians are dangerous when they are selling them anti-ship missiles; they're probably cooperating with them--
WINSTON LORD: I didn't say concluded. I said they're getting to move in that direction finally as a result of…
PAUL WOLFOWITZ: I think we've tried to stop countries from selling peaceful nuclear reactors to Iran because we recognize it's a mistake, and I recognize sometimes you take a half loaf instead of a whole loaf, but I think you were settling for an eighth or a quarter, and in the process we're then trying to--we'll end up having to explain why this is okay. I believe it is in our interest to sell peaceful nuclear reactors to China, but we have a law that we have to deal with, and the law requires some certification about China's proliferation behavior, and I think Congress has some very serious questions to ask, not knowing what the agreement is, Jim. Recognize we haven't heard that yet.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Back to just the general point, Ms. Jones, was this a constructive exercise today for the United States of America, in your opinion?
SIDNEY JONES: I think if you look at it in broad terms, it was probably a constructive exercise if, indeed, what was announced in terms of all of these other factors comes to fruition, but I would say that China's record on obeying its commitments, or on meeting its commitments made in some of these meetings is not particularly good. It hasn't lived up to the international treaties it's signed on human rights, so let's see what it lives up to in terms of the decisions announced. But I do think that this return visit is the thing to focus on now, and it's got to be a human rights focus.
President Clinton to visit China next year.
JIM LEHRER: You mean President Clinton going to China next year?
SIDNEY JONES: President Clinton going to China. If we're looking for ways to exert leverage, we have very few tools at our disposal, and this exchange visit is one of them.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, Mr. Lord?
WINSTON LORD: Well, I think we should use it for that purpose. I wouldn't condition the whole summit on just one issue, but I agree with Sidney; it does give us leverage. The Chinese are stubborn on this issue. We're going to have to attack it on the three levels that I mentioned, but this summit has demonstrated, in my view, that our relationship is not just trade versus human rights, money versus morality. We've got to press on both those fronts. But it also involves very important strategic and geopolitical issues, and there's a whole ream of agreements, modest, but significant, that were announced that demonstrate the breadth of this relationship.
JIM LEHRER: Quickly, do you agree, that this was a worthwhile exercise?
PAUL WOLFOWITZ: I think absolutely. I think we have to be exchanging views with them, and I think it was frankly very helpful for Jiang Zemin to hear the demonstrators. He mentioned that--
JIM LEHRER: The noise?
PAUL WOLFOWITZ: What was the phrase--that seeing is a thousand times better than hearing?
JIM LEHRER: Right.
PAUL WOLFOWITZ: I think it was useful for him to have this kind of clear discussion in front of the press, which is not something he normally is subjected to, and I think President Clinton should go to China. Hopefully, there will be some progress. If there is no progress, he should say so very publicly and very openly. But I think discussion with this important country is something that's in everyone's interest.
JIM LEHRER: Thank you all very much.