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TERENCE SMITH: Last week, four U.S. Senators visited Taiwan, China, and South Korea. The group was led by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden of Delaware. In China, Biden and his group met with President Jiang Zemin and other leaders. Biden, a Catholic, also visited a Catholic church in a mountain village. Accompanied by Tennessee Republican Fred Thompson, Biden told reporters it would have been impossible for him to attend Mass in China in 1979, the last time he was there. Before leaving the country, the Senators also managed to do a little sightseeing. Senators Biden and Thompson join us now. Gentlemen, welcome to you both. Senator Biden, what was the most important central message that you were trying to convey to the Chinese leaders?
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: That if they want to be treated as every other major nation in the world, they had to play by the rules. And that they couldn’t have this economic cooperation and become a member of the world trade organization and continue to be proliferators of weapons of mass destruction or ballistic missile technology. That was the central message that I wanted — that we wanted to communicate to the Chinese. And we wanted to engage them. We wanted them to be part of the international community. But with it came a price of admission and that was a degree of commitment that they haven’t fully shown yet.
TERENCE SMITH: Senator Thompson what do you think the central message the Chinese leaders were trying to convey to you?
SEN. FRED THOMPSON: Well, I am not sure that they had any particular message. I think they wanted to be friendly. I think they clearly thought it in their best interest to engage us. We have substantial trade with them now. They are selling $100 billion more worth of goods to us than we are to them. We have substantial investment by American companies in that country. So they have every reason to be the charming hosts and they were.
But, as Joe said, I think our primary purpose was not to learn brand new things from them, but to let them know that if we — if we were going to be able to continue the kind of relationship that we’d like to see in trade and students going back and forth and so forth, that they really were going to have to address the things that they continue to deny in terms of proliferating weapons of mass destruction and basic human rights especially with regards to American citizens.
TERENCE SMITH: Senator Biden, you visited, of course, both Taiwan and mainland chain, how dangerous is that situation now? And is there any prospect from what you heard of them reaching an understanding?
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: Well, I don’t think there’s any prospect of the understanding in the near term, and as a final settlement. I think there is a clear understanding on President Chen’s part, the president of Taiwan, that although we strongly support the Taiwan Relations Act, which means we will allow them to be in a position to defend themselves, and there needs to be a peaceful cross strait resolution – that is, they have to agree, Beijing and Taipei, as to what the future is going to be and how this one China policy is going to be melded — that we did not support their independence. That was settled with Richard Nixon and six Presidents ago.
And I think President Chen, although he represented the Independence Party, fully understood that. In fact, I know he understood it. He made it extremely clear that he understood that. I think there is a lessening, a dampening down, a tamping down of the tension that had been allowed to build up. And there was some confusion, a little bit of confusion in Taiwan and more in Beijing, over some of the statements made early on in President Bush’s administration. But I think that is pretty well leveled out as well. And I think it’s a status quo ante. I don’t see any immediate flashpoint.
And I don’t think — I am of the view and I believe most defense analysts are, that China does not now possess the capability to do anything by force and that Taiwan is not prepared to go off on a lark in declaring independence. I think things are pretty calm right now. But it’s very, very, very important to the Chinese that we recognize the one China policy. And this is isn’t just the leadership. We were at Fudan University, and we talked to students; I mean, this is a national pride issue that exceeds Communist doctrine. And so I — but I think things are fairly calm right now.
TERENCE SMITH: Senator Thompson, did you get any satisfaction on some of the issues you just mentioned; human rights? Proliferation? Was there anything that you heard from the Chinese leaders that you thought came towards your position?
SEN. FRED THOMPSON: Not really. As far as proliferation is concerned, it was basic denial, even though we know what they are doing and we made it pretty clear that we did.
TERENCE SMITH: You are talking about their providing missiles to countries like Iran and North Korea?
SEN. FRED THOMPSON: Well, Iran and Pakistan for example. Just recently, of course, they were caught shipping additional missile components to Pakistan. They have outfitted Pakistan soup to nuts. And of course that is — has caused a major problem between India and Pakistan, who are now trying to outdo each other in the nuclear field. Just recently, again, they were caught selling fiber optics technology to Iraq, which goes to help shoot down our airplanes. But they continue to deny.
Sometimes they just have a flat denial and other occasions they’ve told other people that perhaps it’s going on but rogue companies in their country are doing it. And they don’t know anything about it. Other times they say maybe we are doing it but as long as you have a missile defense program and things of that nature, and as long as you assist Taiwan, we’re essentially going to continue to do what we want to do.
So I thought it was important that they simply know in some detail that we knew what they were doing. And I think the next step now is what are we going to do about it? I think for the last 10 years we’ve let these things pass, and we have refused to impose sanctions even when our law calls for it. We’ve imposed them temporarily, then lifted them when they gave another promise.
And they’ve promised again and again. But again, last November of — November of last year, that they would not proliferate in precisely the manner that we’ve caught them and yet they continue to deny it. I think we’re going to have to take some action there because clearly they do not believe that they have to do any differently. And they’re trying to keep us off balance I think around other parts of the world by assisting the rogue nations and making this a more dangerous world to live in and specifically making the number one target in the world, which is the United States, more vulnerable.
TERENCE SMITH: Senator Biden? What about that? Sanctions, would you favor them?
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: First of all I take a little exception in degree from Fred. This is a process. I think it is undeniable their activities three years ago, compared to this year are much better. If I can make an analogy to what is going on in Russia and Putin for the longest time, the Chinese leadership viewed I think these issues in terms of strategic doctrine and in terms of this whole notion of balance of power — and poking a stick in our eye, et cetera — just as I think Moscow did with regard to Iran. I think there is a maturing attitude here. For example, it is not at all in their interest now to see North Korea gain any additional capability. I think they are lessening their involvement with Iran.
This is a process. But that doesn’t mean we should stand by and wait for the process to unfold. I think what we should do, and I urged the Clinton administration to do it and I’d urge the Bush administration now to do it, to identify the those entities within the Chinese government that transferred whatever technology meets the requirement of breaching the deal that they have made with us and sanctioning those companies from being able to do business. But there is a confusion here: They are parties to some agreements and not parties to others. And some of the material they’ve transferred are admittedly able to be transferred under the regime, the non-proliferation regime. But what they do is they play a game with us, though. They tell us well, we are not going to proliferate; then they go ahead and send something out that is proliferation, but is not covered by any international agreement that they are a party to. They are trying to play it both ways. And I think we have to call them on it, when in fact, we catch them. And take the action that is appropriate and that is measurable in response to the action they have taken.
TERENCE SMITH: Senator Thompson, there’s been a great deal of discussion about the Olympics going to China in 2008. Did you get any sense that that is, in fact, going to be a moderating influence on the Chinese government between now and then as many people hope? Was there any discussion of it?
SEN. FRED THOMPSON: There really wasn’t any discussion about it. But I think it probably was on everyone’s mind. It certainly makes a good deal of sense to assume that they won’t do anything with regard to Taiwan between now and the Olympics. Frankly, I don’t think they would anyway, absence some totally unexpected event like Taiwan unilaterally declaring independence. But I think most people think it will buy a little time. Others think that that is not necessarily the case; that the Chinese think that time is not on their side; that Jiang Zemin wants the unification with Taiwan as a part of his legacy and that we should not be so sanguine about that, so I don’t know. I think there’s some reason to hope that at least over the next few years, it might contribute toward a more peaceful Taiwan Straits.
TERENCE SMITH: Senator Biden, you also visited Korea and met with President Kim Dae Jung. Did you find him somewhat frustrated about the pace of communication and talks with the North and even the U.S. role in that?
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: The answer is yes. We spent, I don’t know, Fred, I guess it was a couple hours. He was very, very detailed; he is very much a gentleman and very much a diplomat. But he was very politely telling us that if you want to get something done in North Korea, you don’t do it the way you’re going about doing it. That was basically the message, and he wasn’t guaranteeing or making any absolute promises about Kim Jung Il in the North, but he did indicate that he was convinced that there is no place for them to go. They had only one way out. They had to establish relations. They had to make it better.
And what they should understand, and he pointed out that the Chinese understood it, and the Russians understood it, that they would not be dictated to even by their friends and that their friends would not attempt to dictate to them. And so he laid out in great detail the prescription he suggested should be followed as how to in a very tough-minded way, engage them and get a deal. But he was frustrated. And I think it’s fair to say he was — it didn’t take much reading between the lines. He was frustrated by the mixed messages that were being sent by this administration in his view, and so there was real frustration, I thought.
TERENCE SMITH: Senators Thompson, Biden, thank you both very much.