Is the Clinton administration's China policy the right policy?
July 2, 1998
in this forum:
How significant were President Clinton's comments on human rights? How much of an influence do you feel our president can have on Chinese leaders? What is the Clinton administration trying to achieve in China? Will engagement really bring forth changes in China? Has President Clinton made the most of his opportunity in China? Marc Rosenthal of Las Vegas, NV, asks: Has President Clinton, thus far, made the most of his opportunity in China?
Robert Kapp, president of the U.S.-China Business Council, responds:
Marc, that's pretty subjective. I think he has conducted his visit energetically, invested his and his Administration's time and resources in a needed effort to further the building of civil and respectful relations between the U.S. and a large nation with whom the United States is still grievously unfamiliar. Could he have brought some issue to a fuller conclusion than has been the case during the visit? It's too hypothetical to speculate. I suspect my friend Mike Jendrzejczyk will give you a less mealy- mouthed response; forgive me for the unpardonable sin of putting words into your mouth, Mike, but from your earlier analyses both of the Clinton trip and of the role of the American administration in the United States' dealings with China, I have a hunch you might feel that the president did not use his "bully pulpit" or the full power of his presidency as completely and in as publicly visible a manner as he ought to have, particularly with regard to certain human rights issues on which you and your organization have expressed your views many times.
Certainly, on the question of trade and economic relations, I think that many of us in my own organization and throughout the U.S. business community will feel some genuine disappointment at the lack of apparent material progress toward China's entry into the World Trade Organization. Others, whether inveterate critics of China and of the current Administration, or serious analysts of the many issues on the table between the U.S. and China, may also conclude that more could or should have been done to bring about improvements in this or that condition.
But there is no perfect measure of "making the most." We can't take a visit like this -- the first visit in just under a decade by the president of the world's most powerful nation to the world's most populous and rapidly-growing nation -- and "scorecard" it, as political types say here in Washington. You know what I mean: "Clinton won the first round, but Jiang came through with a powerful uppercut in the second. The third round was a draw, but Clinton rallied in the fourth, with a furious attack of talk radio charm...." -- This is no way to evaluate a mission like this. All in all, I think he's done fine, and I only hope (returning to the earlier questions about "influence" and about "bringing forth change" ) that with his return to the United States the initiatives that the two countries committed to during his visit (as well as those committed to last October during President Jiang's trip to Washington) will flower, receiving the commitment and attention that they deserve from American's and Chinese alike.
Professor Michel Oksenberg of Stanford University responds:
I am not a total fan of Bill Clinton. But in this case, hats off to the guy! He's performed magnificently.
Mike Jendrzejczyk of Human Rights Watch responds:
President Clinton might have accomplished more if the Administration had laid out human rights preconditions before it set the date for his visit. Having said that, I am still hopeful that in the private discussions, Clinton might have made some headway on concrete issues. The U.S. could urge China to take realistic, but meaningful steps such as opening up Tibet to human rights monitors and foreign journalists, release of political prisoners, getting safeguards in place for the right of free association for workers, beginning a process of abolishing the arbitrary system of reeducation through labor, and lifting an official blacklist of pro-democracy activists now abroad who can't return to China.
It's interesting that the White House didn't announce the easing of any of the remaining post-1989 sanctions, as was expected, and did not make a major announcement about Premier Zhu Rongji coming to the U.S. in the fall. Perhaps these are carrots or incentives the Administration still hopes to use to encourage progress on human rights or other issues. At Congressional hearings beginning next week, we may learn more about how the Administration plans to follow up on the summit.