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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
96/05/17 Speech: American Interests and the U.S. China Relationship
Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
Office of the Spokesman
Text As Prepared for Delivery
May 17, 1996
"American Interests and the U.S.-China Relationship"
Secretary of State Warren Christopher
to the Asia Society, the Council on Foreign Relations
and the National Committee on U.S. - China Relations
May 17, 1996
McGraw Hill Building
New York, New York
Thank you for that very kind introduction. It’s a great pleasure
to see Les Gelb and Barber Conable again. I want to thank the Council
on Foreign Relations, the National Committee on United States-China
Relations, the Asia Society and Business Week for hosting me. I am very
pleased to have the chance to speak with you today about the United
States and China.
There can be no doubt that the stakes in our relationship with
China are tremendous. China’s future will have a profound impact on the
security and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region and the world. As
Secretary of State, I have an important responsibility to develop our
relationship in ways that will benefit the United States, as well as
China and our allies and friends.
To reach this goal, we strongly support China’s development as a
secure, open, and successful nation that is taking its place as a world
leader. China has an important and constructive role to play in the
coming century -- and we welcome it. The United States and China share
many interests that can only be served when our two countries
deal constructively and openly with each other. By deepening China’s
integration into the international system, we can best ensure that
China’s development as a strong and responsible member of the
international community promotes our interests as well as its own.
We do not have any illusions about the difficulty of managing our
relations during this period of dramatic change and transition in China.
On some critical issues, we have deep differences. Our focus must be on
the long term and we must seek to resolve our differences through
engagement, not confrontation. We will do our part -- but China, too,
must do its part. Here at home, we must mend the consensus, frayed
since Tiananmen, that has supported a constructive approach to China for
almost a quarter-century -- an approach that has profoundly served our
I have had the privilege of witnessing many of the remarkable
changes that have shaped America’s role as a Pacific power. As a young
officer in the U.S. Navy, I was present in Tokyo Bay at the time of
Japan’s surrender in 1945. As a trade negotiator with Japan during the
1960’s, I saw the beginnings of that nation’s dramatic rise. As
Deputy Secretary of State during the 1970’s, I helped achieve the
normalization of ties with China. And as Secretary of State, I joined
President Clinton in uniting the leaders of the Asia-Pacific region
behind a bold vision of economic growth and integration.
The roots of that vision reach back almost two centuries. From
the days of the China Clippers carrying merchants and missionaries, to
Admiral Nimitz’s armadas, the United States has had enduring interests
across the Pacific. Over the past half-century, our military presence
-- and our generous assistance -- have promoted stability and given
Asian nations the chance to build thriving economies and strong
President Clinton recognizes that Asia is more important to our
interests than ever before. During the last three years, we have
pursued a comprehensive strategy in Asia that has produced concrete
benefits for each and every American. Today, Americans are more secure
because we have invigorated our core alliances in Asia and maintained
100,000 troops in a region where we have fought three wars in the past
half-century. We are more prosperous because we have opened markets
among the fastest-growing economies in the world. Our trade with Asia
has almost doubled since 1990. And we face a brighter future because we
are cooperating with former enemies to
build new ties across the Pacific.
China’s evolution will play a central role in shaping that future.
From North Korea to the Spratly Islands, China can tip the balance in
Asia between stability and conflict. Its booming economy holds a key to
Asia’s continued prosperity and, increasingly, to our own. Its
cooperation is essential to combating threats ranging from the spread of
nuclear weapons to alien smuggling and global environmental damage.
China’s people have made dramatic progress in building a market
economy and a more vibrant society. In roughly two decades, China has
managed to quadruple its economic output -- a monumental achievement by
any measure. Millions of Chinese consumers have moved well beyond the
“Four Musts” -- a bicycle, a radio, a watch and a sewing machine -- and
now often own cellular phones and personal computers. The most
revolutionary slogan of the last decade has been Deng Xiaoping’s
injunction that “to get rich is glorious.” Party propagandists and the
People’s Daily compete for attention with radio call-in shows, satellite
dishes, and the Internet.
But these changes have also generated what historian Jonathan
Spence calls “internal pressures that the rest of us can only guess at.”
Rising incomes and an easing of social controls have raised
expectations. Economic advances have brought improved living standards
for many, but left millions behind. Farmers flock to cities in search
of better jobs -- a restive “floating population” that numbers as many
as 100 million. Population growth and pollution strain China’s natural
China’s leaders face these complex challenges at a time of
political transition. Confronted with the worldwide collapse of
communism and the passing of the Deng Xiaoping era, they are turning to
nationalism to rally their country and legitimate their hold on power.
This, in turn, has prompted fears that an increasingly nationalistic
China might exert its growing power and influence in ways that challenge
the security and prosperity of its Pacific neighbors.
These changes have opened important new opportunities for U.S.-
China cooperation on a broad range of shared interests -- including
non-proliferation, peace on the Korean peninsula, and the fight against
narcotics trafficking. But the changes in China have also created
serious strains in our relationship. In the wake of China’s
crackdown following the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, some Americans
see China’s growing power, and our differences on issues such as trade
and human rights, as proof that China represents a fundamental threat to
our interests. Some Chinese contend that despite our public assurances,
the United States really seeks to contain and weaken China.
Both views are fundamentally flawed. We reject the counsel of
those who seek to contain or isolate China. That course would harm our
national interests, not protect them. Demonizing China is as
dangerously misleading as romanticizing it. American policy toward
China has been most successful when we have acknowledged that country’s
great complexity, recognized that change requires patience as well as
persistence, and respected China’s
sovereignty while standing up for our own values and interests.
Since 1972, the foundation for deepening engagement between our
nations has been the “one China” policy that is embodied in the three
joint communiqués between the United States and the People’s Republic of
China. This policy is good for the United States, the PRC, Taiwan and
the entire region. It has helped keep the peace on both sides of the
Taiwan Strait -- and under its umbrella, Taiwan’s democracy and
prosperity have flourished.
The United States strongly believes that resolution of the issues
between the PRC and Taiwan must be peaceful. We were gravely concerned
when China’s military exercises two months ago raised tensions in the
Taiwan Strait. Our deployment of naval forces to the region was meant
to avert any dangerous miscalculations. We are encouraged that both
sides have now taken steps to reduce tensions.
On the eve of the inauguration next Monday of Taiwan’s first
democratically elected President, it is timely to reflect on the
enduring value of our “one China” policy for both the PRC and Taiwan --
and on our common interest and responsibility to uphold it. I want to
tell you publicly today what we have been saying privately to the
leaders in Beijing and Taipei in recent weeks.
To the leadership in Beijing, we have reiterated our consistent
position that the future relationship between Taiwan and the PRC must be
resolved directly between them. But we have reaffirmed that we have a
strong interest in the region’s continued peace and stability -- and
that our “one China” policy is predicated on the PRC’s pursuit of a
peaceful resolution of issues between Taipei and Beijing.
To the leadership in Taiwan, we have reiterated our commitment to
robust unofficial relations, including helping Taiwan maintain a
sufficient self-defense capacity under the terms of the Taiwan Relations
Act. We have stressed that Taiwan has prospered under the “one China”
policy. And we have made clear our view that as Taiwan seeks an
international role, it should pursue that objective in a way that is
consistent with a “one China” policy.
We have emphasized to both sides the importance of avoiding
provocative actions or unilateral measures that would alter the status
quo or pose a threat to peaceful resolution of outstanding issues. And
we have strongly urged both sides to resume the cross-Strait dialogue
that was interrupted last summer.
The United States also has an important interest in ensuring a
smooth and successful transition of Hong Kong on July 1, 1997. We
support the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration and its “one country,
two systems” framework. Beijing’s commitment to maintain Hong Kong’s
open economy, democratic government, distinct legal system, and civil
liberties is crucial to Hong Kong’s future prosperity -- and to China’s.
Building on our enduring “one China” policy, the Clinton
Administration’s approach to China is guided by three tenets: First, as
I said at the outset, we believe that China’s development as a secure,
open and successful nation is profoundly in the interest of the United
States. Second, we support China’s full integration and its active
participation in the international community. Third, while we seek
dialogue and engagement to manage our differences with China, we will
not hesitate to take the action necessary to protect our interests.
Let me briefly explain each of these three elements:
First, the wisdom of encouraging a stable and thriving China is
best shown by considering the dangerous consequences of its opposite.
History demonstrates that an isolated China can produce harmful, even
disastrous, results for the Chinese people, the region and the world.
The reforms that China has undertaken since the late 1970's have
produced great benefits. As China meets the needs of its people, it
will be more secure. And a more secure China is likely to be more open
to reform and to be a better neighbor.
Our participation in China’s internal economic development, for
example, has helped to expand our commercial ties, with U.S. exports to
China doubling in the first half of this decade. Our exchanges on the
rule of law are contributing to legal reforms in China that strengthen
accountable government and make it easier for American companies to do
The second element of our strategy is to support a China that not
only abides by international rules, but that plays an active and
responsible role in setting them. As China gains the benefits of this
participation, it must assume commensurate obligations. China’s full
participation in the international community is essential to our ability
to address the critical global and regional challenges of the next
No area better illustrates the benefits of gaining China’s deeper
involvement in the international community than the fight against the
spread of weapons of mass destruction. A little over a decade ago,
China stood outside the world’s major non-proliferation regimes. Today,
China is a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and a
signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the Chemical
Weapons Convention -- a dramatic turnabout that our engagement helped to
produce. The United States and China have worked together to achieve
NPT extension, controls on ballistic missile exports, and the shutdown
of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. With China's help, we hope to
complete a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty for signature at the UN General
Assembly this September.
We still face serious proliferation challenges with China. But
the significance of the steps already taken should be recognized.
China’s smooth integration into the global trading system is also
in our interest. That is why the United States strongly supports
China’s accession to the World Trade Organization on commercially
acceptable terms. We have worked with China to develop a roadmap of
concrete steps to widen access to its markets and bring its trade
practices in line with WTO rules.
Both our nations’ interests are also served by China’s full
participation in new structures for regional security and economic
cooperation. China’s membership in the ASEAN Regional Forum is an
important example. It encouraged China’s statement last year that it
would abide by international law to settle its claims in the Spratly
Islands. And as a result of its membership in APEC, China is lowering
its tariffs as part of its down payment toward
achieving open and fair trade in the region by 2020.
But the process of integration is incomplete and there remain
important areas of difference. To manage these differences, we seek
engagement. For engagement to be successful, we must be prepared to
take the actions necessary to protect our interests -- the third element
of our approach. Where we have differences, we will press our views and
interests candidly and forcefully, with all the appropriate means at our
Our willingness to enforce U.S. law, for example, was critical to
reaching an understanding last week with China on nonproliferation and
nuclear-related exports. Following intensive discussions that I held
last month with Vice Premier Qian, China has made a public commitment
not to provide assistance to unsafeguarded nuclear facilities. And it
has agreed to important consultations on export control policies and
related issues. At the same time, we have serious concerns about
China’s nuclear and military cooperation with Iran -- and we will
continue to press this issue with Chinese leaders.
We have also stressed to China the importance of fully
implementing the agreement on protecting intellectual property rights
that we reached in February 1995. The piracy of compact disks, videos,
and software is growing, causing billions of dollars in losses to
American companies. The President has made it clear that if the
Chinese authorities do not act to curtail sharply this piracy, we will
have no choice but to go ahead with carefully targeted sanctions.
We do not want a trade war with China. That would serve no one’s
interests. The sanctions lists issued this week should not be seen as
the end of the process -- but as a step that could lead to a successful
outcome. That said, like any other nation, China must fulfill its
agreements and meet its responsibilities as a leading trading nation.
No one should doubt that we will protect our interests.
Trade and investment are helping to create a more open China. But
we will not rely solely on the beneficial impact of increasing economic
development to bring about progress on human rights. Recent economic
and legal reforms have somewhat diminished the arbitrary power of the
Chinese government over the daily lives of its citizens. But grave
human rights abuses continue, including the arrest of those who
peacefully voice their opinions, restrictions on religious freedom, and
repression in Tibet.
The American people have a deep and abiding interest in the
promotion of human rights in China and around the world. We will
continue to speak out on behalf of those in China who defend universally
recognized rights, as we did together with the European Union at the UN
Human Rights Commission last month. We will continue to work with China
to strengthen its judiciary. We know that change in China will take
time, and that the most repressive periods in recent Chinese history
have occurred when China was isolated from the world. That is why we
Our support for continuing Most Favored Nation trading status for
China should be seen in the context of the three elements of our policy.
The MFN debate should not be a referendum on China’s current political
system, or on whether we approve of the policies of the Chinese
leadership. The issue at stake is whether renewing MFN unconditionally
is the best way to advance American interests. The President and I are
convinced that the answer is a resounding yes -- a conclusion reached by
every American president since 1979.
Revoking or conditioning MFN would not advance human rights in
China. But it would damage our economy and jeopardize more than 200,000
American jobs. It would harm Hong Kong, which is why legislative
leader Martin Lee and Governor Chris Patten support MFN’s unconditional
renewal. It would hurt Taiwan, whose economy depends heavily on its
commercial ties with the PRC and U.S.-China trade. It could undermine
our ability to work with China on regional security issues such as North
Korea, and on any of the other important interests we share, from
nonproliferation to the global environment. And it would weaken our
influence throughout a region that still looks to America as a force for
stability and security.
The issues that I have discussed today only begin to reflect the
breadth of our relationship with China. We have an extraordinarily
diverse and demanding agenda.
Given the range of our interests, and the importance of China to
our future security and well-being, I believe the time has come to
develop a more regular dialogue between our two countries. Holding
periodic cabinet-level consultations in our capitals would facilitate a
candid exchange of views, provide a more effective means for managing
specific problems, and allow us to approach individual issues within the
broader strategic framework of our overall relationship.
I also believe that our nations’ two leaders should hold regular
summit meetings. I intend to discuss these ideas with Vice Premier Qian
when we meet in Jakarta this July.
In the United States, we also face an immediate priority. If we
are to sustain the advances that we have made with China since the
historic opening in 1972, we must rebuild the bipartisan consensus that
has guided our relations with China since then. Our interests demand it
-- and our allies and friends expect it. We must continue to have the
full support of the American people to meet the difficult challenges
that lie ahead.
Thank you very much.
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