[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[June 11, 1998]
[Pages 934-939]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks at the National Geographic Society
June 11, 1998

    Thank you very much, President Fahey. 
I don't know what to say about starting the day with this apparition. 
[Laughter] But it's probably good practice for our line of work. 
[Laughter] I try to read every issue of the National Geographic, and I 
will certainly look forward to that one.
    Chairman Grosvenor, Members of 
Congress, members of the administration, and members of previous 
administrations who are here and others who care about the national 
security and national interests of the United States. First let me, once 
again, thank the National Geographic Society for its hospitality and for 
the very important work that it has done for so long now.
    As all of you know, I will go to China in 2 weeks' time. It will be 
the first state visit by an American President this decade. I'm going 
because I think it's the right thing to do for our country. Today I want 
to talk with you about our relationship with China and how it fits into 
our broader concerns for the world of the 21st century and our concerns, 
in particular, for developments in Asia. That relationship will in large 
measure help to determine whether the new century is one of security, 
peace, and prosperity for the American people.
    Let me say that all of you know the dimensions, but I think it is 
worth repeating a few of the facts about China. It is already the 
world's most populous nation; it will increase by the size of America's 
current population every 20 years. Its vast territory borders 15 
countries. It has one of the fastest growing economies on Earth. It 
holds a permanent seat on the National Security Council of the United 
Nations. Over

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the past 25 years, it has entered a period of profound change, emerging 
from isolation, turning a closed economy into an engine for growth, 
increasing cooperation with the rest of the world, raising the standard 
of living for hundreds of millions of its citizens.
    The role China chooses to play in preventing the spread of weapons 
of mass destruction or encouraging it, in combating or ignoring 
international crime and drug trafficking, in protecting or degrading the 
environment, in tearing down or building up trade barriers, in 
respecting or abusing human rights, in resolving difficult situations in 
Asia, from the Indian subcontinent to the Korean Peninsula, or 
aggravating them--the role China chooses to play will powerfully shape 
the next century.
    A stable, open, prosperous China that assumes its responsibilities 
for building a more peaceful world is clearly and profoundly in our 
interests. On that point, all Americans agree. But as we all know, there 
is serious disagreement over how best to encourage the emergence of that 
kind of China and how to handle our differences, especially over human 
rights, in the meantime.
    Some Americans believe we should try to isolate and contain China 
because of its undemocratic system and human rights violation and in 
order to retard its capacity to become America's next great enemy. Some 
believe increased commercial dealings alone will inevitably lead to a 
more open, more democratic China.
    We have chosen a different course that I believe to be both 
principled and pragmatic, expanding our areas of cooperation with China 
while dealing forthrightly with our differences. This policy is 
supported by our key democratic allies in Asia: Japan, South Korea, 
Australia, Thailand, the Philippines. It has recently been publicly 
endorsed by a number of distinguished religious leaders, including 
Reverend Billy Graham and the Dalai Lama. My trip has been recently supported by political 
opponents of the current Chinese Government, including most recently 
Wang Dan.
    There is a reason for this. Seeking to isolate China is clearly 
unworkable. Even our friends and allies around the world do not support 
us--or would not support us in that. We would succeed instead in 
isolating ourselves and our own policy.
    Most important, choosing isolation over engagement would not make 
the world safer. It would make it more dangerous. It would undermine, 
rather than strengthen, our efforts to foster stability in Asia. It 
would eliminate, not facilitate, cooperation on issues relating to 
weapons of mass destruction. It would hinder, not help, the cause of 
democracy and human rights in China. It would set back, not step up, 
worldwide efforts to protect the environment. It would cut off, not open 
up, one of the world's most important markets. It would encourage the 
Chinese to turn inward and to act in opposition to our interests and 
    Consider the areas that matter most to America's peace, prosperity, 
and security, and ask yourselves, would our interests and ideals be 
better served by advancing our work with or isolating ourselves from 
    First, think about our interest in a stable Asia, an interest that 
China shares. The nuclear threats--excuse me--the nuclear tests by India 
and Pakistan are a threat to the stability we seek. They risk a terrible 
outcome. A miscalculation between two adversaries with large armies 
would be bad. A miscalculation between two adversaries with nuclear 
weapons could be catastrophic.
    These tests were all the more unfortunate because they divert 
precious resources from countries with unlimited potential. India is a 
very great nation, soon to be not only the world's most populous 
democracy but its most populous country. It is home to the world's 
largest middle class already and a remarkable culture that taught the 
modern world the power of nonviolence. For 50 years Pakistan has been a 
vibrant Islamic state and is today a robust democracy. It is important 
for the world to recognize the remarkable contributions both these 
countries have made and will continue to make to the community of 
nations if they can proceed along the path of peace. It is important for 
the world to recognize that both India and Pakistan have security 
concerns that are legitimate. But it is equally important for India and 
Pakistan to recognize that developing weapons of mass destruction is the 
wrong way to define their greatness, to protect their security, or to 
advance their concerns.
    I believe that we now have a self-defeating, dangerous, and costly 
course underway. I believe that this course, if continued, not moderated 
and ultimately changed, will make both the people of India and the 
people of Pakistan poorer, not richer, and less, not more, secure. 
Resolving this requires us to cooperate with China.

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    Last week China chaired a meeting of the permanent members of the 
U.N. Security Council to forge a common strategy for moving India and 
Pakistan back from the nuclear arms race edge. It has condemned both 
countries for conducting nuclear tests. It has joined us in urging them 
to conduct no more tests, to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, to 
avoid deploying or testing missiles, to tone down the rhetoric, to work 
to resolve their differences, including over Kashmir, through dialog. 
Because of its history with both countries, China must be a part of any 
ultimate resolution of this matter.
    On the Korean Peninsula, China has become a force for peace and 
stability, helping us to convince North Korea to freeze its dangerous 
nuclear program, playing a constructive role in the four-party peace 
talks. And China has been a helpful partner in international efforts to 
stabilize the Asian financial crisis. In resisting the temptation to 
devalue its currency, China has seen that its own interests lie in 
preventing another round of competitive devaluations that would have 
severely damaged prospects for regional recovery. It has also 
contributed to the rescue packages for affected economies.
    Now, for each of these problems we should ask ourselves, are we 
better off working with China or without it? When I travel to China this 
month, I will work with President Jiang to 
advance our Asian security agenda, keeping the pressure on India and 
Pakistan to curb their nuclear arms race and to commence a dialog, using 
the strength of our economies and our influence to bolster Asian 
economies battered by the economic crisis, and discussing steps we can 
take to advance peace and security on the Korean Peninsula. I will 
encourage President Jiang to pursue the cross-strait discussion the PRC 
recently resumed with Taiwan, and where we have already seen a reduction 
in tensions.
    Second, stopping the spread of nuclear, chemical, and biological 
weapons is clearly one of our most urgent security challenges. As a 
nuclear power with increasingly sophisticated industrial and 
technological capabilities, China can choose either to be a part of the 
problem or a part of the solution.
    For years, China stood outside the international arms control 
regimes. In the last decade, it has joined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation 
Treaty, the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Biological Weapons 
Convention, and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, each with clear 
rules, reporting requirements, and inspection systems. In the past, 
China has been a major exporter of sophisticated weapons-related 
technologies. That is why in virtually all our high-level contacts with 
China's leadership, and in my summit meeting with President Jiang last October, nonproliferation has been high on the 
    Had we been trying to isolate China rather than work with it, would 
China have agreed to stop assistance to Iran for its nuclear program? To 
terminate its assistance to unsafe-guarded nuclear facilities such as 
those in Pakistan? To tighten its export control system, to sell no more 
antiship cruise missiles to Iran? These vital decisions were all in our 
interests, and they clearly were the fruit of our engagement.
    I will continue to press China on proliferation. I will seek 
stronger controls on the sale of missiles, missile technology, dual-use 
products, and chemical and biological weapons. I will argue that it is 
in China's interest, because the spread of weapons and technologies 
would increasingly destabilize areas near China's own borders.
    Third, the United States has a profound stake in combating 
international organized crime and drug trafficking. International 
criminal syndicates threaten to undermine confidence in new but fragile 
market democracies. They bilk people out of billions of dollars and 
bring violence and despair to our schools and neighborhoods. These are 
problems from which none of us are isolated and which, as I said at the 
United Nations a few days ago, no nation is so big it can fight alone.
    With a landmass spanning from Russia in the north to Vietnam and 
Thailand in the south, from India and Pakistan in the west to Korea and 
Japan in the east, China has become a transshipment point for drugs and 
the proceeds of illegal activities. Last month a special liaison group 
that President Jiang and I established brought 
together leading Chinese and American law enforcement officials to step 
up our cooperation against organized crime, alien smuggling, and 
counterfeiting. Next month the Drug Enforcement Agency of the United 
States will open an office in Beijing. Here, too, pursuing practical 
cooperation with China is making a difference for America's future.

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    Fourth, China and the United States share the same global 
environment, an interest in preserving it for this and future 
generations. China is experiencing an environmental crisis perhaps 
greater than any other nation in history at a comparable stage of its 
development. Every substantial body of water in China is polluted. In 
many places, water is in short supply. Respiratory illness is the number 
one health problem for China's people because of air pollution.
    Early in the next century, China will surpass the United States as 
the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, which are dangerously 
warming our planet. This matters profoundly to the American people, 
because what comes out of a smokestack or goes into a river in China can 
do grievous harm beyond its borders. It is a fool's errand to believe 
that we can deal with our present and future global environmental 
challenges without strong cooperation with China.
    A year ago, the Vice President launched 
a dialog with the Chinese on the environment to help them pursue growth 
and protect the environment at the same time. I have to tell you that 
this is one of the central challenges we face, convincing all developing 
nations, but especially China and other very large ones, that it is 
actually possible to grow their economies in the 21st century without 
following the pattern of energy use and environmental damage that 
characterize economic growth in this century. And we need all the help 
we can to make that case.
    In Beijing, I will explore with President Jiang how American clean energy technology can help to 
improve air quality and bring electricity to more of China's rural 
residents. We will discuss innovative tools for financing clean energy 
development that were established under the Kyoto climate change 
    Fifth, America clearly benefits from an increasingly free, fair, and 
open global trading system. Over the past 6 years, trade has generated 
more than one-third of the remarkable economic growth we have enjoyed. 
If we are to continue generating 20 percent of the world's wealth with 
just 4 percent of its population, we must continue to trade with the 
other 96 percent of the people with whom we share this small planet.
    One in every four people is Chinese. And China boasts a growth rate 
that has averaged 10 percent for the past 20 years. Over the next 20 
years, it is projected that the developing economies will grow at 3 
times the rate of the already developed economies. It is manifestly, 
therefore, in our interest to bring the Chinese people more and more 
fully into the global trading system to get the benefits and share the 
responsibilities of emerging economic prosperity.
    Already China is one of the fastest growing markets for our goods 
and services. As we look into the next century, it will clearly support 
hundreds of thousands of jobs all across our country. But access to 
China's markets also remains restricted for many of our companies and 
products. What is the best way to level the playing field? We could 
erect trade barriers. We could deny China the normal trading status we 
give to so many other countries with whom we have significant 
disagreements. But that would only penalize our consumers, invite 
retaliation from China on $13 billion in United States exports, and 
create a self-defeating cycle of protectionism that the world has seen 
    Or, we can continue to press China to open its markets, its goods 
markets, its services markets, its agricultural markets, as it engages 
in sweeping economic reform. We can work toward China's admission to the 
WTO on commercially meaningful terms, where it will be subject to 
international rules of free and fair trade. And we can renew normal 
trade treatment for China, as every President has done since 1980, 
strengthening instead of undermining our economic relationship.
    In each of these crucial areas, working with China is the best way 
to advance our interests. But we also know that how China evolves inside 
its borders will influence how it acts beyond them. We, therefore, have 
a profound interest in encouraging China to embrace the ideals upon 
which our Nation was founded and which have now been universally 
embraced: the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; to 
debate, dissent, associate, and worship without state interference. 
These ideas are now the birthright of people everywhere, a part of the 
Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They are part of the fabric of 
all truly free societies.
    We have a fundamental difference with China's leadership over this. 
The question we Americans must answer is not whether we support human 
rights in China--surely, all of us do--but rather, what is the best way 
to advance them? By integrating China into the community of nations and 
the global economy, helping its

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leadership understand that greater freedom profoundly serves China's 
interests, and standing up for our principles, we can most effectively 
serve the cause of democracy and human rights within China.
    Over time, the more we bring China into the world, the more the 
world will bring freedom to China. China's remarkable economic growth is 
making China more and more dependent on other nations for investment, 
for markets, for energy, for ideas. These ties increase the need for the 
stronger rule of law, openness, and accountability. And they carry with 
them powerful agents of change: fax machines and photocopiers, computers 
and the Internet. Over the past decade, the number of mobile phones has 
jumped from 50,000 to more than 13 million in China, and China is 
heading from about 400,000 Internet accounts last year to more than 20 
million early in the next century. Already, one in five residents in 
Beijing has access to satellite transmissions. Some of the American 
satellites China sends into space beam CNN and other independent sources 
of news and ideas into China.
    The licensing of American commercial satellite launches on Chinese 
rockets was approved by President Reagan, 
begun by President Bush, continued under my 
administration, for the simple reason that the demand for American 
satellites far out-strips America's launch capacity, and because others, 
including Russian and European nations, can do this job at much less 
    It is important for every American to understand that there are 
strict safeguards, including a Department of Defense plan for each 
launch, to prevent any assistance to China's missile programs. Licensing 
these launches allows us to meet the demand for American satellites and 
helps people on every continent share ideas, information, and images 
through television, cell phones, and pagers. In the case of China, the 
policy also furthers our efforts to stop the spread of missile 
technology by providing China incentives to observe nonproliferation 
agreements. This policy clearly has served our national interests.
    Over time, I believe China's leaders must accept freedom's progress 
because China can only reach its full potential if its people are free 
to reach theirs.
    In the information age, the wealth of any nation, including China's, 
lies in its people, in their capacity to create, to communicate, to 
innovate. The Chinese people must have the freedom to speak, to publish, 
to associate, to worship without fear of reprisal. Only then will China 
reach its full potential for growth and greatness.
    I have told President Jiang that when it 
comes to human rights and religious freedom, China remains on the wrong 
side of history. Unlike some, I do not believe increased commercial 
dealings alone will inevitably lead to greater openness and freedom. We 
must work to speed history's course. Complacency or silence would run 
counter to everything we stand for as Americans. It would deny those 
fighting for human rights and religious freedom inside China the outside 
support that is a source of strength and comfort. Indeed, one of the 
most important benefits of our engagement with China is that it gives us 
an effective means to urge China's leaders publicly and privately to 
change course.
    Our message remains strong and constant: Do not arrest people for 
their political beliefs; release those who are in jail for that reason; 
renounce coercive population control practices; resume your dialog with 
the Dalai Lama; allow people to worship when, 
where, and how they choose; and recognize that our relationship simply 
cannot reach its full potential so long as Chinese people are denied 
fundamental human rights.
    In support of that message, we are strengthening Radio Free Asia. We 
are working with China to expand the rule of law and civil society 
programs in China so that rights already on the books there can become 
rights in reality. This principled, pragmatic approach has produced 
significant results, although still far from enough. Over the past year, 
China has released from jail two prominent dissidents, Wei Jingsheng and Wang Dan, and Catholic 
Bishop Zeng. It announced its intention to sign 
the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which will 
subject China's human rights practices to regular scrutiny by 
independent international observers. President Jiang received a delegation of prominent American religious 
leaders and invited them to visit Tibet.
    Seeking to isolate China will not free one more political dissident, 
will not open one more church to those who wish to worship, will do 
nothing to encourage China to live by the laws its has written. Instead, 
it will limit our ability to advance human rights and religious and 
political freedom.

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    When I travel to China, I will take part in an official greeting 
ceremony in front of the Great Hall of the People, across from Tiananmen 
Square. I will do so because that is where the Chinese Government 
receives visiting heads of state and government, including President 
Chirac of France and, most recently, Prime 
Minister Netanyahu of Israel. Some have 
suggested I should refuse to take part in this traditional ceremony, 
that somehow going there would absolve the Chinese Government of its 
responsibility for the terrible killings at Tiananmen Square 9 years 
ago, or indicate that America is no longer concerned about such conduct. 
They are wrong.
    Protocol and honoring a nation's traditional practices should not be 
confused with principle. China's leaders, as I have repeatedly said, can 
only move beyond the events of June, 1989, when they recognize the 
reality that what the Government did was wrong. Sooner or later they 
must do that. And perhaps even more important, they must change course 
on this fundamentally important issue.
    In my meetings with President Jiang and other 
Chinese leaders and in my discussions with the Chinese people, I will 
press ahead on human rights and religious freedom, urging that China 
follow through on its intention to sign the Covenant on Civil and 
Political Rights, that it release more individuals in prison for 
expressing their opinions, that it take concrete steps to preserve 
Tibet's cultural, linguistic, and religious heritage.
    We do not ignore the value of symbols. But in the end, if the choice 
is between making a symbolic point and making a real difference, I 
choose to make the difference. And when it comes to advancing human 
rights and religious freedom, dealing directly and speaking honestly to 
the Chinese is clearly the best way to make a difference.
    China has known more millennia than the United States has known 
centuries. But for more than 220 years, we have been conducting a great 
experiment in democracy. We must never lose confidence in the power of 
American experience or the strength of our example. The more we share 
our ideas with the world, the more the world will come to share the 
ideals that animate America. And they will become the aspirations of 
people everywhere.
    I should also say we should never lose sight of the fact that we 
have never succeeded in perfectly realizing our ideals here at home. 
That calls for a little bit of humility and continued efforts on our 
part on the homefront.
    China will choose its own destiny, but we can influence that choice 
by making the right choice ourselves, working with China where we can, 
dealing directly with our differences where we must. Bringing China into 
the community of nations rather than trying to shut it out is plainly 
the best way to advance both our interests and our values. It is the 
best way to encourage China to follow the path of stability, openness, 
nonaggression; to embrace free markets, political pluralism, the rule of 
law; to join us in building a stable international order where free 
people can make the most of their lives and give vent to their 
children's dreams.
    That kind of China, rather than one turned inward and 
confrontational, is profoundly in our interests. That kind of China can 
help to shape a 21st century that is the most peaceful and prosperous 
era the world has ever known.
    Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 10:32 a.m. in the Gilbert H. Grosvenor 
Auditorium. In his remarks, he referred to John M. Fahey, Jr., 
president, and Gilbert M. Grosvenor, chairman of the board, National 
Geographic Society; President Jiang Zemin of China; and Chinese Roman 
Catholic Bishop Zeng Jingmu.