MAY 17, 1996
Secretary of State Warren Christopher, in a speech to the Asia Society and Council on Foreign Relations delivered Friday, outlined the status and future of U.S.-China relations. Conflict over intellectual property rights and elections in Taiwan have strained ties between the two countries. Christopher expressed hope that the two countries would establish more regular meetings to discuss issues and warned Congress not to try and punish China by revoking Most Favored Nation trade status. Christopher discusses his speech with Elizabeth Farnsworth in a newsmaker interview. This is followed by analysis from former national security advisor Brent Scowcroft and former undersecretary of commerce Jeffrey Garten.
Click here for the People's Republic of China's embassy in Washington.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Thank you for being with us, Mr. Secretary.
WARREN CHRISTOPHER, Secretary of State: Good afternoon, Elizabeth. I'm glad to be here.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Our relations with China have been very rocky the past year with differences over trade, Taiwan, nuclear proliferation, human rights. Was your speech today, the articulation of policy in your speech, aimed at getting relations back on track?
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Well, it was certainly aimed at making a comprehensive statement about U.S. policy toward China. We have been through a difficult period. On the other hand, we have resolved some problems and quieted some tensions. What I wanted to do, though, was reach not only the American audience but the audience in the Asia Pacific region and let them know we have a policy of engagement with China, that we want to have a sound relationship with China. I spelled out certain tenets for that relationship that I think are useful and going forward.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Is there something new in the speech that you really want to highlight? I looked at it. There are a few things I noticed that are new. What do you want to highlight?
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Some things old and some things new, Elizabeth. First I want to emphasize the continuing vitality and validity on the one China policy. It's served the United States, China, and Taiwan very well. I want to emphasize that the United States has a very great interest in a successful, open, secure China. We have an interest too in seeing China take its place in the community of nations with the, both the opportunities and responsibilities, and I want to emphasize that the United States will manage the differences, that we'll reserve the right to take action where necessary. Those are the things that are not, not brand new, but they're very important to state and restate. But somewhat new was my emphasis on having a deeper dialogue than we've had before, a more regular dialogue, and I suggested there be regular cabinet level meetings, as well as regular summit meetings in the future.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I was struck by your reference in the speech to the strains of the transition, political and economic transition, China is in the midst of. You said that the Chinese leadership is resorting to nationalism in this time of turmoil partly to legitimate its own rule. Could you elaborate more on that.
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Well, it's clear there's a transition going on in China. We don't know the exact pace of it, but it's clear there's a new group coming into leadership, and as they come into leadership, we see some indication that they're emphasizing nationalism as a way perhaps to legitimize their own authority. China wouldn't be the only country where that's happening around the world, but it's important that that policy not have overtones for the relations between China and its neighbors that are harmful or negative. I think that's one of the differences that can be managed, but it's useful to understand at least what seems to be going on from our perspective.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Recently in the past couple of weeks, in particular, some critics--I'm thinking of Henry Kissinger in last week's "Washington Post," and other critics too have--say that the United States has failed to adequately comprehend Chinese motivation, that your administration is pursuing very short-sighted policies, that there have been too many zigs and zags, that this is part of the reason for the difficulties in relations.
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: We have had a consistent policy of engagement with China, at least since 1994, where we broadened our engagement with China. The President has seen his opposite number, Xiang Zemin, several times. I've met 13 times with the foreign minister, Chen Chi Chen. As I said, I've seen more of him than I have of my grandchildren, so we've had a policy of engagement. We're working through some difficult problems. I think that we need to understand that China's an important country. I hope the people of this country can rebuild their, their consensus that was shattered or at least it was injured by the Tiananmen square activities, but I think we've had a sound policy toward China. The main changes that I would make in it is to regularize our contact and to ensure that we have contacts at the very highest level.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So that means summit meetings between the heads of state of both countries.
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: I think that would be very healthy for the future, but it also means, Elizabeth, having cabinet level meetings where we talk about not just our differences and not just the crisis we're facing, but the many areas of common interest we have, narcotics, nonproliferation, and interest in showing that we try to draw the North Koreans into dialogue with South Korea so as to resolve that problem. There are a number of areas where we have common interest with China, and if we have regular dialogue, that tends to get--emphasize the common interest as well as the differences.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Secretary, I was struck. You just mentioned the need for a consensus at home, and I was struck by your having mentioned this several times in the speech. You said we must mend the consensus in this country in regard to China. Are you concerned about the differences among various policy groups and analysts over what to do about China? Is this, is this a more acute problem than it has been in the past?
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: It comes to the fore mentioned with the extension of Most Favored Nation treatment. There are some in the Congress who would like to reach out, I think, and find some basis for punishing China, and I think that would be quite a serious mistake. We need to analyze Most Favored Nations in terms of whether it's in the interest of the United States. And as I said in my speech today, I think it's strongly in the interest of the United States, but there is a situation developing on Capitol Hill. There's a need for a greater understanding of the importance about having a consistent long-term policy with, with China, corresponding to the areas where that comes to the fore in the human rights area. I've had a long experience with human rights issues, spent much of my career on issues like that, and one thing I know is that there are no quick fixes. We have to work and work and work at that problem. I would hope to convince those in Congress who want to see some immediate results that that isn't likely to happen, but if we look out over time, we can succeed. And I think it's in that area we need to try to rebuild the consensus that we had in earlier years.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What about the differing responses to--the administration's differing responses to the sale of the ring magnets to Pakistan, which then went to an uninspected nuclear facility and trade? In one case, no sanctions, in one case threatened sanctions. Can you briefly describe the difference there.
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Well, in connection with the ring magnet transaction, I think that's an indication of a successful negotiation or policy with the Chinese. I met with the foreign minister in the Hague about a month ago, and got near to a solution of that problem and followed up with diplomatic exchanges. And as a result, they have taken a commitment they had never taken before, and that is that they will not assist unsafeguarded facilities such as there are in Pakistan. And we've also set up an experts group to talk about how we can ensure that that doesn't happen again in the future. So that's a real step forward. That's differentiated from the intellectual property situation, where we're not satisfied with their response, but hopefully, Elizabeth, in this 30-day period between our announcement of tentative sanctions and their going into effect we'll be able to work out a satisfactory resolution. Of course, that depends upon what the Chinese are prepared to do. They have not lived up to agreement reached with them in 1995. That's very important to the United States, the sale of intellectual property abroad, is one of our principal products to sell abroad, and we simply cannot abide a situation where there's wholesale piracy of American ideas.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for being with us.
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Thank you, Elizabeth.