[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1997, Book II)]
[October 24, 1997]
[Pages 1424-1429]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks to the Asia Society and the United States-China Education 
Foundation Board
October 24, 1997

    Thank you very much, Ambassador Platt. I thank the Asia Society and 
the U.S.-China Education Foundation for bringing us together today. I 
thank Senator Baucus and Congressmen Dreier, Matsui, and Roemer for 
being here; Secretary Albright, Ambassador Barshefsky, National Security 
Adviser Berger, the other distinguished officials from the State 
Department. And I thank especially the members of the diplomatic corps 
who are here and the students. And especially let me thank two of my 
favorite people, Joe Duffey and Evelyn Lieberman, for the work of the 
Voice of America and the USIA, all that they do to promote the free flow 
of ideas around the world.
    Next week, when President Jiang Zemin comes to Washington, it will 
be the first state visit by a Chinese leader to the United States for 
more than a decade. The visit gives us the opportunity and the 
responsibility to chart a course for the future that is more positive 

[[Page 1425]]

more stable and hopefully more productive than our relations have been 
for the last few years.
    China is a great country with a rich and proud history and a strong 
future. It will, for good or ill, play a very large role in shaping the 
21st century in which the children in this audience today, children all 
across our country, all across China, and indeed all across the world, 
will live.
    At the dawn of the new century, China stands at a crossroads. The 
direction China takes toward cooperation or conflict will profoundly 
affect Asia, America, and the world for decades. The emergence of a 
China as a power that is stable, open, and nonaggressive, that embraces 
free markets, political pluralism, and the rule of law, that works with 
us to build a secure international order, that kind of China, rather 
than a China turned inward and confrontational, is deeply in the 
interests of the American people.
    Of course, China will choose its own destiny. Yet by working with 
China and expanding areas of cooperation, dealing forthrightly with our 
differences, we can advance fundamental American interests and values.
    First, the United States has a profound interest in promoting a 
peaceful, prosperous, and stable world. Our task will be much easier if 
China is a part of that process, not only playing by the rules of 
international behavior but helping to write and enforce them.
    China is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. 
Its support was crucial for peacekeeping efforts in Cambodia and 
building international mandates to reverse Iraq's aggression against 
Kuwait and restore democracy to Haiti. As a neighbor of India and 
Pakistan, China will influence whether these great democracies move 
toward responsible cooperation both with each other and with China.
    From the Persian Gulf to the Caspian Sea, China's need for a 
reliable and efficient supply of energy to fuel its growth can make it a 
force for stability in these strategically critical regions. Next week, 
President Jiang and I will discuss our visions of the future and the 
kind of strategic relationship we must have to promote cooperation, not 
    Second, the United States has a profound interest in peace and 
stability in Asia. Three times this century, Americans have fought and 
died in Asian wars; 37,000 Americans still patrol the cold war's last 
frontier, on the Korean DMZ. Territorial disputes that could flare into 
crises affecting America require us to maintain a strong American 
security presence in Asia. We want China to be a powerful force for 
security and cooperation there.
    China has helped us convince North Korea to freeze and ultimately 
end its dangerous nuclear program. Just imagine how much more dangerous 
that volatile peninsula would be today if North Korea, reeling from food 
shortages, with a million soldiers encamped 27 miles from Seoul, had 
continued this nuclear program.
    China also agreed to take part in the four-party peace talks that 
President Kim and I proposed with North Korea, the only realistic avenue 
to a lasting peace. And China is playing an increasingly constructive 
role in Southeast Asia by working with us and the members of ASEAN to 
advance our shared interests in economic and political security.
    Next week I'll discuss with President Jiang the steps we can take 
together to advance the peace process in Korea. We'll look at ways to 
strengthen our military-to-military contacts, decreasing the chances of 
miscalculation and broadening America's contacts with the next 
generation of China's military leaders. And I will reiterate to 
President Jiang America's continuing support for our ``one China'' 
policy, which has allowed democracy to flourish in Taiwan and Taiwan's 
relationship with the PRC to grow more stable and prosperous. The Taiwan 
question can only be settled by the Chinese themselves peacefully.
    Third, the United States has a profound interest in keeping weapons 
of mass destruction and other sophisticated weaponry out of unstable 
regions and away from rogue states and terrorists. In the 21st century, 
many of the threats to our security will come not from great power 
conflict but from states that defy the international community and 
violent groups seeking to undermine peace, stability, and democracy. 
China is already a nuclear power with increasingly sophisticated 
industrial and technological capabilities. We need its help to prevent 
dangerous weapons from falling into the wrong hands.
    For years, China stood outside the major international arms control 
regimes. Over the past decade, it has made important and welcome 
decisions to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Chemical 
Weapons Convention, the Biological Weapons Convention, and to respect 
key provisions of the Missile Technology Control Regime. Last year at 
the United Nations, I was

[[Page 1426]]

proud to be the first world leader to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban 
Treaty. China's Foreign Minister was the second leader to do so.
    China has lived up to its pledge not to assist unsafeguarded nuclear 
facilities in third countries, and it is developing a system of export 
controls to prevent the transfer or sale of technology for weapons of 
mass destruction.
    But China still maintains some troubling weapons supply 
relationships. At the summit, I will discuss with President Jiang 
further steps we hope China will take to end or limit some of these 
supply relationships and to strengthen and broaden its export control 
system. And I will make the case to him that these steps are, first and 
foremost, in China's interest because the spread of dangerous weapons 
and technology would increase instability near China's own borders.
    Fourth, the United States has a profound interest in fighting drug 
trafficking and international organized crime. Increasingly, smugglers 
and criminals are taking advantage of China's vast territory and its 
borders with 15 nations to move drugs and weapons, aliens, and the 
proceeds of illegal activities from one point in Asia to another or from 
Asia to Europe.
    China and the United States already are cooperating closely on alien 
smuggling, and China has taken a tough line against narcotrafficking, a 
threat to its children as well as our own. Next week I will propose to 
President Jiang that our law enforcement communities intensify their 
efforts together.
    Fifth, the United States has a profound interest in making global 
trade and investment as free, fair, and open as possible. Over the past 
5 years, trade has produced more than one-third of America's economic 
growth. If we are to continue generating good jobs and higher incomes in 
our country when we are just 4 percent of the world's population, we 
must continue to sell more to the other 96 percent. One of the best ways 
to do that is to bring China more fully into the world's trading system. 
With a quarter of the world's population and its fastest growing 
economy, China could and should be a magnet for our goods and services.
    Even though American exports to China now are at an all-time high, 
so, too, is our trade deficit. In part, this is due to the strength of 
the American economy and to the fact that many products we used to buy 
in other Asian countries now are manufactured in China. But clearly, an 
important part of the problem remains lack of access to China's markets. 
We strongly support China's admission into the World Trade Organization. 
But in turn, China must dramatically improve access for foreign goods 
and services. We should be able to compete fully and fairly in China's 
marketplace, just as China competes in our own.
    Tearing down trade barriers also is good for China and for the 
growth of China's neighbors and, therefore, for the stability and future 
of Asia. Next week, President Jiang and I will discuss steps China must 
take to join the WTO and assume its rightful place in the world economy.
    Finally, the United States has a profound interest in ensuring that 
today's progress does not come at tomorrow's expense. Greenhouse gas 
emissions are leading to climate change. China is the fastest growing 
contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and we are the biggest 
greenhouse gas emitter. Soon, however, China will overtake the United 
States and become the largest contributor. Already, pollution has made 
respiratory disease the number one health problem for China's people. 
Last March, when he visited China, Vice President Gore launched a joint 
forum with the Chinese on the environment and development so that we can 
work with China to pursue growth and protect the environment at the same 
    China has taken some important steps to deal with its need for more 
energy and cleaner air. Next week, President Jiang and I will talk about 
the next steps China can take to combat climate change. It is a global 
problem that must have a global solution that cannot come without 
China's participation as well. We also will talk about what American 
companies and technology can do to support China in its efforts to 
reduce air pollution and increase clean energy production.
    Progress in each of these areas will draw China into the 
institutions and arrangements that are setting the ground rules for the 
21st century: the security partnerships, the open trade arrangements, 
the arms control regime, the multinational coalitions against terrorism, 
crime, and drugs, the commitments to preserve the environment and to 
uphold human rights. This is our best hope to secure our own interests 
and values and to advance China's in the historic transformation that 
began 25 years ago when China reopened to the world.

[[Page 1427]]

    As we all know, the transformation already has produced truly 
impressive results. Twenty-five years ago, China stood apart from and 
closed to the international community. Now, China is a member of more 
than 1,000 international organizations, from the International Civil 
Aviation Organization to the International Fund for Agricultural 
Development. It has moved from the 22d largest trading nation to the 
11th. It is projected to become the second largest trader, after the 
United States, by 2020. And today, 40,000 young Chinese are studying 
here in the United States, with hundreds of thousands more living and 
learning in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
    China's economic transformation has been even more radical. Market 
reforms have spurred more than two decades of unprecedented growth, and 
the decision at the recently ended 15th Party Congress to sell off most 
all of China's big, state-owned industries promises to keep China moving 
toward a market economy. The number of people living in poverty has 
dropped from 250 million to 58 million, even as China's population has 
increased by nearly 350 million. Per capital income in the cities has 
jumped 550 percent in just the past decade.
    As China has opened its economy, its people have enjoyed greater 
freedom of movement and choice of employment, better schools and 
housing. Today, most Chinese enjoy a higher standard of living than at 
any time in China's modern history. But as China has opened 
economically, political reform has lagged behind.
    Frustration in the West turned into condemnation after the terrible 
events in Tiananmen Square. Now, nearly a decade later, one of the great 
questions before the community of democracies is how to pursue the broad 
and complex range of our interests with China while urging and 
supporting China to move politically as well as economically into the 
21st century. The great question for China is how to preserve stability, 
promote growth, and increase its influence in the world, while making 
room for the debate and the dissent that are a part of the fabric of all 
truly free and vibrant societies. The answer to those questions must 
begin with an understanding of the crossroads China has reached.
    As China discards its old economic order, the scope and sweep of 
change has rekindled historic fears of chaos and disintegration. In 
return, Chinese leaders have worked hard to mobilize support, legitimize 
power, and hold the country together, which they see is essential to 
restoring the greatness of their nation and its rightful influence in 
the world. In the process, however, they have stifled political dissent 
to a degree and in ways that we believe are fundamentally wrong, even as 
freedom from want, freedom of movement, and local elections have 
    This approach has caused problems within China and in its 
relationship to the United States. Chinese leaders believe it is 
necessary to hold the nation together, to keep it growing, to keep 
moving toward its destiny. But it will become increasingly difficult to 
maintain the closed political system in an ever more open economy and 
    China's economic growth has made it more and more dependent on the 
outside world for investment, markets, and energy. Last year it was the 
second largest recipient of foreign direct investment in the world. 
These linkages bring with them powerful forces for change. Computers and 
the Internet, fax machines and photocopiers, modems and satellites all 
increase the exposure to people, ideas, and the world beyond China's 
borders. The effect is only just beginning to be felt.
    Today more than a billion Chinese have access to television, up from 
just 10 million two decades ago. Satellite dishes dot the landscape. 
They receive dozens of outside channels, including Chinese language 
services of CNN, Star TV, and Worldnet. Talk radio is increasingly 
popular and relatively unregulated in China's 1,000 radio stations. And 
70 percent of China's students regularly listen to the Voice of America.
    China's 2,200 newspapers, up from just 42 three decades ago, and 
more than 7,000 magazines and journals are more open in content. A 
decade ago, there were 50,000 mobile phones in China; now there are more 
than 7 million. The Internet already has 150,000 accounts in China, with 
more than a million expected to be on-line by the year 2000. The more 
ideas and information spread, the more people will expect to think for 
themselves, express their own opinions, and participate. And the more 
that happens, the harder it will be for their government to stand in 
their way.
    Indeed, greater openness is profoundly in China's own interest. If 
welcomed, it will speed economic growth, enhance the world influence of 
China, and stabilize society. Without the full freedom to think, 
question, to create, China will

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be at a distinct disadvantage, competing with fully open societies in 
the information age where the greatest source of national wealth is what 
resides in the human mind.
    China's creative potential is truly staggering. The largest 
population in the world is not yet among its top 15 patent powers. In an 
era where these human resources are what really matters, a country that 
holds its people back cannot achieve its full potential.
    Our belief that, over time, growing interdependence would have a 
liberalizing effect in China does not mean in the meantime we should or 
we can ignore abuses in China of human rights or religious freedom. Nor 
does it mean that there is nothing we can do to speed the process of 
    Americans share a fundamental conviction that people everywhere have 
the right to be treated with dignity, to give voice to their opinion, to 
choose their own leaders, to worship as they please. From Poland to 
South Africa, from Haiti to the Philippines, the democratic saga of the 
last decade proves that these are not American rights or Western rights 
or developed world rights, they are the birthrights of every human 
being, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
    Those who fight for human rights and against religious persecution, 
at the risk of their jobs, their freedom, even their lives, find 
strength through knowledge that they are not alone, that the community 
of democracies stands with them. The United States, therefore, must and 
will continue to stand up for human rights, to speak out against their 
abuse in China or anywhere else in the world. To do otherwise would run 
counter to everything we stand for as Americans.
    Over the past year, our State Department's annual human rights 
report again pulled no punches on China. We cosponsored a resolution 
critical of China's human rights record in Geneva, even though many of 
our allies had abandoned the effort. We continue to speak against the 
arrest of dissidents and for a resumed dialog with the Dalai Lama, on 
behalf of the people and the distinct culture and unique identity of the 
people of Tibet, not their political independence but their uniqueness.
    We established Radio Free Asia. We are working with Congress to 
expand its broadcast and to support civil society and the rule of law 
programs in China. We continue to pursue the problem of prison labor, 
and we regularly raise human rights in all our high-level meetings with 
the Chinese.
    We do this in the hope of a dialog. And in dialog, we must also 
admit that we in America are not blameless in our social fabric: Our 
crime rate is too high; too many of our children are still killed with 
guns; too many of our streets are still riddled with drugs. We have 
things to learn from other societies as well and problems we have to 
solve. And if we expect other people to listen to us about the problems 
they have, we must be prepared to listen to them about the problems we 
    This pragmatic policy of engagement, of expanding our areas of 
cooperation with China while confronting our differences openly and 
respectfully, this is the best way to advance our fundamental interests 
and our values and to promote a more open and free China.
    I know there are those who disagree. They insist that China's 
interests and America's are inexorably in conflict. They do not believe 
the Chinese system will continue to evolve in a way that elevates not 
only the human material condition but the human spirit. They, therefore, 
believe we should be working harder to contain or even to confront China 
before it becomes even stronger.
    I believe this view is wrong. Isolation of China is unworkable, 
counterproductive, and potentially dangerous. Military, political, and 
economic measures to do such a thing would find little support among our 
allies around the world and, more importantly, even among Chinese 
themselves working for greater liberty. Isolation would encourage the 
Chinese to become hostile and to adopt policies of conflict with our own 
interests and values. It will eliminate, not facilitate, cooperation on 
weapons proliferation. It would hinder, not help, our efforts to foster 
stability in Asia. It would exacerbate, not ameliorate, the plight of 
dissidents. It would close off, not open up, one of the world's most 
important markets. It would make China less, not more, likely to play by 
the rules of international conduct and to be a part of an emerging 
international consensus.
    As always, America must be prepared to live and flourish in a world 
in which we are at odds with China. But that is not the world we want. 
Our objective is not containment and conflict, it is cooperation. We 
will far better serve our

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interests and our principles if we work with a China that shares that 
objective with us.
    Thirty years ago, President Richard Nixon, then a citizen 
campaigning for the job I now hold, called for a strategic change in our 
policy toward China. Taking the long view, he said, we simply cannot 
afford to leave China forever outside the family of nations. There is no 
place on this small planet for a billion of its potentially most able 
people to live in angry isolation.
    Almost two decades ago, President Carter normalized relations with 
China, recognizing the wisdom of that statement. And over the past two 
and a half decades, as China has emerged from isolation, tensions with 
the West have decreased; cooperation has increased; prosperity has 
spread to more of China's people. The progress was a result of China's 
decision to play a more constructive role in the world and to open its 
economy. It was supported by a farsighted American policy that made 
clear to China we welcome its emergence as a great nation.
    Now, America must stay on that course of engagement. By working with 
China and making our differences clear where necessary, we can advance 
our interests and our values and China's historic transformation into a 
nation whose greatness is defined as much by its future as its past.
    Change may not come as quickly as we would like, but as our 
interests are long-term, so must our policies be. We have an opportunity 
to build a new century in which China takes its rightful place as a full 
and strong partner in the community of nations, working with the United 
States to advance peace and prosperity, freedom and security for both 
our people and for all the world. We have to take that chance.
    Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 2:50 p.m. in the auditorium at the Voice of 
America. In his remarks, he referred to Nicholas Platt, president, The 
Asia Society; and President Kim Yong-sam of South Korea.