July 2, 1998
As President Clinton's nine day tour of the Peoples Republic of China draws to a close, four U.S. foreign policy experts analyze the implications of the state visit and the future of Sino-U.S. relations.
JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, how U.S. interest fared in President Clinton's China trip. We begin with a report on the President's day from Spencer Michels.
SPENCER MICHELS: The President's last day on the Chinese Mainland began with Mr. Clinton taking a boat tour of the Li River near the city of Guilin, an area that was polluted but has been restored to environmental health. The focus today was on the environment. The presidential party glided past some of China's most spectacular scenery. But the pictures of beautiful limestone peaks and rich forests belied the intense degradation of China's air and water. The environment pollution has coincided with China's development as an industrial economy, fueled largely by coal. After the boat tour, the President spoke to a group of Chinese environmentalists and local residents. He pledged to help China avoid the same mistakes he said the United States made during its early period of industrial growth.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: This week we have made important new progress. We will provide China assistance to monitor air quality. We will increase our support for programs that support renewable energy sources to decrease China's dependence on coal.
SPENCER MICHELS: The final leg of the President's trip took him to Hong Kong. And Air Force One was one of the first passenger planes to land at the city's new airport. The President was met chief executive Tung Chee-Hwa. The Hong Kong leader then hosted a reception in the President's honor. He complimented Mr. Clinton for improving Sino-U.S. relations.
TUNG CHEE-HWA, Chief Executive, Hong Kong: On the world stage, despite mounting interest group pressure and ongoing differences between China and the United States, you have courageously stepped forward to lay the foundation for a strategic partnership between the two countries.
SPENCER MICHELS: Inside, Chinese officials and business leaders drank toasts to Mr. Clinton, while outside a small group of pro-democracy activists burned an American flag protesting President Clinton's trip. They criticized his human rights stance.
LEUNG KWOK-HUNG, Human Rights Activist: We want to show the anger of us towards Mr. Bill Clinton's so-called human rights diplomacy, you know. He just gives lip service; he doesn't care about the people in the third world.
SPENCER MICHELS: Tomorrow, the President will meet Hong Kong business leaders and local politicians, including democracy advocates, and he'll hold a wrap-up news conference.
JIM LEHRER: Phil Ponce takes the story from there.
PHIL PONCE: We now get four views on the diplomatic side of the China trip from four veteran American diplomats: John Holdridge was the number two official at the U.S. Mission in Beijing in the Nixon and Ford Administrations, serving under then U.S. Liaison to China, George Bush; Winston Lord was Ambassador to China during President Regan's second term, he also served as Assistant Secretary of State in President Clinton's first term; James Lilley was Ambassador to China during the Bush Administration; and Paul Wolfowitz was the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs during the Reagan Administration. Gentlemen, welcome. John Holdridge, were U.S. interests advanced by President Clinton's trip to China?
JOHN HOLDRIDGE, Former Deputy Chief of Mission, China: Very definitely, in my opinion. It seems to me that we have removed some of the clutter in our relationship, some of the tensions that had cropped up over the last year, especially since 1989, June 3/4th. And that now we can get back to doing business with China on a much more reasonable and less intense basis.
PHIL PONCE: Paul Wolfowitz, good results for the U.S. as Mr. Holdridge says?
PAUL WOLFOWITZ, Assistant Secretary of State: I think there were gains and there were losses, but, frankly, I think the President paid far too high a price for this trip. I don't think you'd have to have a nine-day odyssey to the middle kingdom that ignored our democratic allies in the region, that took a poke at democracy in Taiwan and that frankly threatens the consensus in this country on the delicate issue of Taiwan just for a few hours on Chinese television, although I think those hours were very useful for American interests.
PHIL PONCE: Winston Lord, was the trade-off worth it, as Mr. Wolfowitz suggests it was not?
WINSTON LORD, Former U.S. Ambassador, China: I think the trade-off was worth it. Let me make a couple of comments. I don't agree with Mr. Holdridge about 1989 being clutter. I think we have to recall 1989. It's very important. But I do agree with him and disagree with Paul that, on balance, our interests were advanced. I think the President defused some criticism by a fairly strong performance on human rights, reaching the Chinese people, although we have to see whether the Chinese people are as well treated as the President was. And he's enabled us—I think is John Holdridge's point—to focus on his larger gender. There's been a debate as if it's just money versus morality. But we have the environment. We have the South Asian nuclear crisis. We have the Korea problem. We have crime, narcotics, the Asian financial crisis. These are important issues that we have to address. Finally, with respect to Paul's point, I am disturbed the President did not go to Japan. This is the longest trip any President has ever taken to any country for bilateral purposes. He should have gone to Japan, but I don't believe we're going to shift off actions, nor should we. And finally on Taiwan I would note that President Li has lauded the President's performance in China so he couldn't have done too badly on Taiwan.
PHIL PONCE: James Lilley, picking up on the Japan point, was it a mistake for the President not to go to Japan?
JAMES LILLEY, Former U.S. Ambassador, China: Oh, I think that Japan is the linchpin of our security policy in Asia, and I think the Chinese were working very hard on the President to get him to say something in China that was derogatory towards Japan. And I think somebody did actually criticize the Japan role, which wasn't exactly a perfect role. But you don't want to play into their hands in this sort of Japan bashing thing. But I would like to add just one comment. I think, of course, you have to look at the visit on three levels. First is the glitz and the hype. And on that he gets very high marks. It was done very well. He turned it around. It started out badly with the visas, and then they had the press conference, and then Peking University and the Shanghai cranes, and oh, boy, it was real glitz, it was "Wag the Dog," it was big stuff. I think on the second level of creating a climate, as John suggests, for getting into the serious issues may be a C or a B. They begin to move towards the issues, but they didn't engage really in them. And when you get in the issues, themselves, they dealt with environment; they dealt with anti-crime, anti-terrorism, anti-drugs, and these are important issues. But the real ones, as Winston says, are North Korea, India, Pakistan, the Asian meltdown, stability in Taiwan. And these are the most important ones. And I don't think much was done there.
PHIL PONCE: John Holdridge, do you agree that some of the bigger issues were not touched, or at least were not fruitful, as far as the U.S. position?
JOHN HOLDRIDGE: I think they were not made public. I think that a lot went on that we have not yet heard from. But I think that the discussions must have been very fruitful, because the presidents from both countries seemed to be very pleased with it. And I think that that shows that we have made progress. But now we're in a situation, as I mentioned before, where we can address these difficulties and differences between us in a very logical and a very even basis, where before we had such suspicions on the part of China and so many people in the United States regarding China that we weren't able to get anywhere. But now I think we're in a much better situation.
PHIL PONCE: Paul Wolfowitz, has that level of suspicion gone down?
PAUL WOLFOWITZ: Well, in terms of the atmospherics, perhaps, but I think there was an awful lot of make-believe on this, as symbolized by the great hype that was given to this agreement that we wouldn't target missiles on one another. It's an agreement that no one can check on anyway and could be changed within 10 minutes. It's not meaningful. And then we talk about we have partnership with this country when, in fact, we have a lot of deep disagreements with them. Winston Lord mentioned South Asia. We act as though China was the key to solving the problem in South Asia when, as a matter of fact, China has been giving not only missile technology but nuclear weapons technology to Pakistan and putting a lot of pressure on India. And then when we had a meeting a few weeks ago, last month, to talk about the South Asian problem, the U.S. proposes Japan and Germany should come, and China says, no, they can't come, that's a strategic partnership? It is not. And to pretend that it is, is misleading the American people, and to simply have a good atmosphere is not a way to solve problems.
PHIL PONCE: A strategic partnership in the works, Winston Lord?
WINSTON LORD: No. I agree with Paul, and that's a bad phrase to use. Strategic partnership is what we have with Japan, which shares our values, which China doesn't, which is a treaty ally, which China is not, and which is still more important to us economically. But I do think on these big issues it's a process, it's a reason to engage China. You can't expect breakthroughs in any one summit. You've got to keep working on it. I agree, for example, that China was a contributing factor to the nuclear race in South Asia, but they're now taking a more constructive role. Let me add another point, though, about the hype. I think there's been a little bit too much hype. And now all of us, as former government officials, have been spinning summits in the past are all guilty of it. This could come back to haunt the administration. They should let the successful visit speak for itself, but to call it historical on a par with Nixon's visit or that 600 million people were watching TV, they don't need this, and we're going to have to see how the Chinese people are treated once the President leaves. And there's some stylistic points that bother me. Why isn't he having his picture taken with Martin Li when he's in Hong Kong, a democracy activist? Why didn't he mention Wang Dan, the Beijing University student who was in jail and exiled when he spoke to the Beijing University students? Why wasn't he firmer in response to these planted questions, by the way? All those student questions were either planted by the government or pleasing to the government so they could further their career. And why wasn't he tougher on the visas? Why didn't he mention Taiwan in his speech when he's talking about the spread of freedom in Asia? These are some stylistic points that I'm a little concerned about, but I want to come back to my bottom line, so I'm not misunderstood. I think the President on the whole gets high marks, and I think he's advanced our interests.
PAUL WOLFOWITZ: Phil, the one important thing—I think the only important thing in this visit—and I don't diminish the importance—was the President talking about freedom. He tended to avoid the word democracy, by the way, but he talked about freedom. He talked about open, prosperous China, in China to the Chinese people. But this was not done as a favor to the United States. It was done, obviously, and it's a good thing, because the Chinese leadership want to send a message to their people, that that's the direction they're moving in. And, frankly, it's very helpful for them to have a leader of the world's greatest democracy, in effect, say, yes, that's the direction you're moving in, and we understand your need for stability. I think it's all a rather hopeful direction. But the United States shouldn't have had to gone on bended knee to get that kind of a performance. We shouldn't have had to pay a price for it. And we did pay a price for it, with Japan, with Taiwan, with India, and I think, in general, respect for American prestige in Asia.
PHIL PONCE: James Lilley, did one side get more out of the exchange than the other?
JAMES LILLEY: Well, I think probably the Chinese came out somewhat ahead.
PHIL PONCE: How so?
JAMES LILLEY: Well, they actually got Clinton to buy on to what their position on Taiwan. They moved him on it. But they also gave him a chance to talk to the Chinese people.
PHIL PONCE: And that was the trade-off.
JAMES LILLEY: This was the trade-off. But let me just make one more point. If you talk about success and you say that the leaders are happy, therefore, there must have been accomplishments, I can tell you these things work on two levels. First of all, both leaders wanted a success and the propaganda organs on both sides, the spin meisters in the White House, and the Communist Party's propaganda apparatus went out and made it a success. Underneath, when they started dealing with issues, there were good, hard strokes between the two sides. The Chinese were not going to give on proliferation unless we linked it to armed sales to Taiwan. The Chinese were very, very tough on theater missile defense, absolutely not. It will not be deployed in East Asia, although they had fired missiles in 1996. They laid down a lot of tough markers, and I think that we've got a lot of work to do still, and I think that we've got a lot of work to do still, and I don't think you should look at the two leaders smiling and patting each other on the back and saying this is a successful mission.
PHIL PONCE: John Holdridge, following--
WINSTON LORD: If could I intervene here for just a second on that, I think Jim is right about those points, about tough negotiating, but I would disagree with him on the Taiwan question. As I say, he can't be holier than President Li, number one. Number two, the president's reiterations were policies going back 25 years in two cases, and another case several years consistent with that policy, and actually it portrayed the fact that China didn't get what it wanted in Taiwan, it didn't get a fourth communiqué, didn't get new formulations, it didn't get an assurance that U.S./Japan treaty doesn't cover Taiwan. It didn't get a limit on American sales. So the Chinese were spinning this. It was no new change in the U.S. position, and Taiwan and others, friends of Taiwan, and I'm one of them, but Taiwan has fallen into the propaganda trap of Beijing and inflated this, and as President Li said, the President did not change our position.
PHIL PONCE: John Holdridge, what do you think the Chinese got out of this?
JOHN HOLDRIDGE: Certainly prestige. I think they must have strengthened Jiang Zemin's hand, but they also got something from Taiwan on us, but on the other hand, people have talked about what the President said on Taiwan it was not a new position that goes all the way back to Henry Kissinger's first meeting with Zhou Enlai in July 1971, when he declared that the United States did not support two Chinas, one China, one Taiwan, or an independent Taiwan, and a logical conclusion from that is that the United States would not support Chinese Taiwan's entry into any kind of an organization, which required a national entry, a national position in order to be a member of that organization. So there's no change on that one, and that was just simply put out there in terms of reaffirming a position, which we've had for a long time, which is very necessary.
PHIL PONCE: Just by what of information what the President said, his quote was, We don't support independence for Taiwan or two Chinas, or one Taiwan, one China, and we don't believe that Taiwan should be a member in any organization for which statehood is a requirement. And that was the three "no's"--
PAUL WOLFOWITZ: And its new policy in the attempt to pretend it is a new policy is wrong. I remember in 1983--
WINSTON LORD: Well, it's not new policy. That's ridiculous. It goes back 25 years.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Lord, I'll let Mr. Wolfowitz make his point, and I'll get back to you, sir.
PAUL WOLFOWITZ: The Chinese said they wanted to join the Asian Development Bank, and we had to throw Taiwan out of the bank. And we said, well, how about a name change? And I remember at the time all the China experts in the State Department said China will never accept a mere name change for Taiwan. They'll insist on throwing Taiwan out of the bank. But, in fact, we told China that there was no way we would throw Taiwan out of the Asian Development Bank. And ultimately they agreed on an arrangement for a name change. During the old days, the old Soviet Union, you had Bielorussia and Ukraine who were certainly part of the Soviet Union and were members of the United Nations. I don't think the United States should be getting into the middle of this in precluding anything that the two entities can agree on. And that has always been our position, which is that anything they agree on we can support.
PHIL PONCE: So you're saying the United States may have undercut some flexibility in the relationship.
PAUL WOLFOWITZ: And in the process I believe we have shaken political confidence in Taiwan, and it's made—going to make it more difficult for them to deal as we'd like them to deal with Beijing.
PHIL PONCE: I promised Winston Lord to get back to him on this. Sir.
WINSTON LORD: Yes. I yield to no one on my strength of affection and respect for Taiwan and I fought for any change not being made in our position, and it hasn't been made. The U.S. position still is that Beijing and Taiwan can work out representation fine, but you cannot be for a one China policy and then support another state in the U.N. But the point is that this is not new and we shouldn't let Beijing get propaganda gains by inflating this. And I just say President Li seems a lot more relaxed than Paul does.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Lilley, a very last question in the time we have left. Bottom line, is the U.S./China relationship better now?
JAMES LILLEY: Yes. I think certainly the atmospherics are better but all of the tough questions are still on the table, and I would say that we did not give in, as Winston said, on these positions that the Chinese pushed. This is just the first round of 150-round fight, though, and it may come back at you.
PHIL PONCE: And with that I thank you all very much.