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U.S. Department of State
96/11/26 Interview on PBS-TV "Newshour with Jim Lehrer"
Office of the Spokesman
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesman
For Immediate Release November 26, 1996
SECRETARY OF STATE WARREN CHRISTOPHER
JIM LEHRER - PBS-TV "NEWSHOUR WITH JIM LEHRER"
November 26, 1996
MR. LEHRER: We go first tonight to the Secretary of State, Warren
Christopher, who is with us now for a "Newsmaker" interview about the
President's just completed trip to Asia, among other matters. Mr.
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Thank you, Jim.
MR. LEHRER: Mr. Secretary, do you believe U.S. relations with China are
better now because of this trip and what happened there?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: There's no question they're better, Jim. We hit
a rather low point in 1995 after President Li of Taiwan came here for a
visit. I think they've been building steadily since then. I've been
meeting several times with the Chinese Foreign Minister.
This meeting between President Jiang Zemin of China and President
Clinton was by far the best of the meetings they have had. I think our
relationships are much more stable. They're on a good basis now. Not
that we don't have problems with them, but we've got a solid basis for
dealing with our common interests as well as our problems.
MR. LEHRER: Some of the criticism, as I'm sure you have read and heard,
of the decision to exchange visits -- the two Presidents to exchange
visits over the next two years -- is that the United States has decided
that human rights do not matter as much as trade. Is that correct? Is
that a correct reading of the situation?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Jim, human rights matter a great deal to us.
China is a very important country. It's the most populous country in
the world. It has a very large economy, as does ours. But we also have
very important security issues with China: issues involving North
Korea, issues involving the U.N. Security Council, issues of terrorism
So we need to be able to work with China on security issues as well as
trade issues. Human rights will always be an important issue for us and
probably took more of my time in my three meetings with the Chinese
leaders than any other subject, except perhaps proliferation. The
President raised it importantly.
But what these meetings do -- the meetings between the President and
President Jiang Zemin, which are going to take place next year and the
following year, is to provide a forum in which we can discuss this broad
range of issues. It means that there's a regular basis for getting
together. These issues are not a reward, but they're an opportunity for
an intensive dialogue.
MR. LEHRER: Don't the Chinese take the position that any time the
President or you or any other American official raises a human rights
issues, that is an attempt to interfere in their domestic affairs?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: This time we had a very strong engagement. I
talked to Premier Li Peng about this issue. We exchanged views. There
was a vigorous discussion between the two of us. The same thing was
true between the President and President Jiang Zemin.
So we've begun to be able to engage on these issues. Now, there are
still considerable gaps between us, but I think that's the way you make
progress. You certainly don't make progress by isolating another
MR. LEHRER: But do they take the position when you raise these issues
that, "Hey, this is none of your business," or do they actually argue
about it -- argue specific cases with you?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: They do both things. They say, "It's none of
your business," and then they start the argument. They recognize that
they have pledged to the International Declaration of Human Rights. We
discussed a number of things, such as the treatment of prisoners in
their jails; such as possible release on medical parole. We went down a
long list of issues. As I say, there are gaps, but we're engaged in
those issues, and that's where you make progress.
MR. LEHRER: But do you and the President see human rights as a
condition for anything else involved in the relationship, such as trade,
such as security, such as anything else?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: I'll say this, Jim. Our relationships will
never reach their fullest potential until we have a better understanding
on human rights. So there is that limitation.
MR. LEHRER: Do they know that? Do you think the Chinese know that?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: I certainly told them that, and the President
has told them that, too. Nevertheless, we must be able to engage on the
other issues as well. Human rights is important, but so is security,
and so is trade; so is our ability to deal with them on the wide range
The environment is very important to both countries. As you know, Vice
President Gore is going to be visiting China in the first half of next
year, and they'll be talking about sustainable development -- a very
There are some issues that we really can't address without China's help.
I would say narcotics is one. Terrorism. Certainly the environment.
We fundamentally affect those issues -- we two very large countries --
and to try to isolate China would be very shortsighted and unwise for
MR. LEHRER: Karen Elliot House, writing today in the Wall Street
Journal, said flat out that China was rapidly on its way to becoming the
other superpower in the world. Do you agree with that?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: It's a very, very important country. It has a
huge industrial economy. I went to Shanghai on this trip. I had not
been there for many years, and the growth in Shanghai is just almost
unbelievable, Jim -- the construction of buildings, the rapid growth
So they are a very, very potent country. We want to see a stable, open
-- and we recognize it will be a strong and prosperous China as well.
MR. LEHRER: Should we see China and its growing power as a threat to
the United States?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: The important thing for us to do is to have an
understanding with them that keeps it from becoming a threat, to make
them understand that we can work in harmony; that we can cooperate on
these major issues.
If we would try to isolate them, if we would try to contain them, that
would be a sure recipe for making them a threat. We want to get them on
the same side of the table with us on these major issues, such as
terrorism and drugs and the environment.
MR. LEHRER: But, in other words, see them as a potential ally of the
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Exactly.
MR. LEHRER: Is that realistic?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: It's certainly realistic that we can cooperate
with them on the main issues. Look what we've done together just in the
security front. We worked together on the Non-Proliferation Treaty. It
would not have gotten done if we hadn't worked together. The
Comprehensive Test Ban --
MR. LEHRER: China had to participate in that or that wouldn't have
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: That's right, and the same thing is true of the
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The same thing is true week in and week
out at the U.N. They're a member of the Security Council. They have a
veto as we have a veto. So there are many places where we absolutely
have to work together, and we have been able to cooperate.
There are these issues where we have differences, but what regular
meetings do is give us a forum to discuss those differences.
MR. LEHRER: There are some in Japan, as you know, who are very straight
about the fact that they see a growing, powerful China as a threat to
Japan. How do you read that?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: I don't think any of the countries out there
should regard themselves as threats to each other. They all have a very
strong place in that burgeoning economy. Fortunately, I think they all
regard the United States as being an important stabilizing factor.
Every country there wants us to remain a Pacific power, and one of the
great things about the President's trip there this time is he was able
to visit three of the countries with which we have security
relationships -- Australia, Thailand and the Philippines -- and he met
with the other two treaty allies, South Korea and Japan -- met with
their leaders in Manila. So it was a very impressive and important trip
for the President, in addition to his meeting with China's President
MR. LEHRER: Do you get the impression that the Chinese see the presence
of U.S. troops in Asia as a threat to their security, and as something
that should not be?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: I do not. I think they see us as a stabilizing
factor. I think we're beginning to convince them that we're there not
to contain them but to cooperate with them, and that's one of the things
that this dialogue with them, I think, has helped us do.
MR. LEHRER: Just on a realistic basis, do you see -- do you come back
from this trip expecting there to be more incidents like the firings in
the Taiwan Strait? Hong Kong still has a lot of people nervous about
next year -- its turnover to China. All of these things. Are we
destined to have a series of problems with China, or do you think?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Jim, I think we have a better chance to minimize
those problems than we did before. I'd have to say that with any two
nations our size, we'll continue to have issues that we have to address
between us, and things are changing very rapidly. Certainly, the
reversion of Hong Kong to China is going to be a major factor.
But one of the things that both the President and I did in my meetings
with the Chinese leaders was say, "Look, the whole world is watching how
you're going to be handling Hong Kong. They're going to be watching
whether you live up to your promise of keeping Hong Kong a place where
there's the rule of law; keeping Hong Kong prosperous."
They gave us assurances that they believed that Hong Kong should not
change in the way it does business, and we'll be watching that when it
reverts next July 1.
MR. LEHRER: Mr. Secretary, on the refugee crisis in Central Africa,
where do matters stand now on sending an international force to help?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Jim, let me just back off that for a moment and
say that, you know, some happy, some positive things have happened
there. Six hundred thousand refugees have made their way back from
Zaire into Rwanda mainly on their own -- some with encouragement from
the non-governmental organizations -- so that's a positive factor. And
the international community has responded to that by coming up with $700
million to help them resettle in Zaire.
Now I mention that because that has fundamentally changed the situation.
When the United States, under the leadership of Canada, pledged to go
in, that had not happened. Now we are having to take a new look at the
situation to see whether or not an international force, that is a
governmental force, is necessary, or whether it can be accomplished by
the non-governmental organizations. Certainly we would rather see it
done on the latter basis.
There were urgent meetings over the weekend by military planners in
Stuttgart in Germany, and the policy people are meeting today in New
York to see whether there is a new and different mission that needs
urgently to be done by the international community.
We would not be prepared to go there unless there was a clearly defined,
doable mission, one that could be accomplished safely and for
MR. LEHRER: And sitting here tonight that does not exist, is that
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Well, sitting here tonight we are trying to
define a new mission. Now, there are a number of refugees, Jim, that
remain in eastern Zaire, the 600,000 already having left. The numbers
are quite hard to come by with any great precision, but clearly tens of
thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of refugees remain there in
But it is quite a confused picture. Some of them are from Zaire
themselves. Some of them are from Rwanda. Some are from Burundi. So
that the picture has changed, and we are trying very hard to get our
hands around the changed picture to see if there is some equally urgent
humanitarian reason that caused us to go before.
But we need to take time and get it right and not barge in there on a
mission that has been not well thought through.
MR. LEHRER: On another subject, Mr. Secretary, are you and the
President having any second thoughts about not supporting a second term
for U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: No. That decision was taken by the President
several months ago. It was a decision, really a prospective decision.
The President felt that he could not provide the new leadership for the
U.N. unless there was a change in the U.N. Secretary General.
When he came into office five years ago -- he was 69 then -- Secretary
General Boutros-Ghali said that he would serve only one term. He has
now changed his mind about that. We think that new leadership is
necessary, especially for reform. As you know, the United States cast
one of its rare vetoes to demonstrate the firmness of our conviction
that new leadership is necessary.
I hope that the African countries and others will come forward with some
new candidates who could be considered for that important post.
MR. LEHRER: But right now, it is a stalemate, is that right? The
Africans have declined to do that thus far.
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Well, the first veto is only a few days behind
us now. I hope they will be coming forward with some candidates. The
risk is that if the Africans don't come forward with some other
candidates, then that vacuum is not going to remain there very long and
there will be other candidates offered.
It's very important that there be somebody who can provide sound, wise,
prudent reform leadership at the U.N.
MR. LEHRER: Why is this such an important issue to the United States?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Well, it is important frankly because the U.N.
is important to us. The U.N. does so many things around the world, it
is important that they do them well, from UNICEF, to the the World
Health Organization, to peacekeeping.
So the U.N. is a fundamentally extremely valuable organization for the
United States and for the world. We are the largest participant by way
of paying. We need to see it done well.
We will only be able to command the support of the American people and
the Congress if they have confidence that it's a reformed U.N., that it
is conducting its business in an efficient way. I'm afraid that
perception is not there right now.
So one of the things that the President wants to do in his second term
is to provide leadership for a new more effective and efficient U.N.
MR. LEHRER: And it's going to take a new Secretary General to do it,
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: That's our judgment.
MR. LEHRER: Yes. Now, speaking of the President's second term, you
have decided not to serve in the second term. Tell us why.
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Oh, Jim, four years seem to me to be long
enough. I've had a wonderful time and it has been a tremendous
opportunity and I am very grateful to the President for giving me this
opportunity, but it seems to me time to move on. I'll remain active in
international and national affairs, I hope, but I think that it's the
natural time to move on.
MR. LEHRER: You just felt it was time to go.
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Yes, sir.
MR. LEHRER: You spent a lot of time with the President in the last
several days. Has he chosen a successor yet?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: I think the President is still pondering that
very important issue. He said before he left that he wanted to view the
national security team as a whole to see how they fit together to make
sure they could work as a team. He is pondering that. I think he is
keeping his own counsel at the present time, but my own expectation
would be that after he returns and after the Thanksgiving holidays, he
will turn to that because I know he wants to move into this new term
with a good deal of momentum and determination on the international
front, as well as the domestic front.
MR. LEHRER: If you were a betting man, Mr. Secretary, where would you
put your money?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: I would put my money on the President making a
MR. LEHRER: What a great answer from the Secretary of State. Mr.
Secretary, thank you, very much. We will talk to you again before you
finally leave office. Thank you, sir.
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Thank you, so much.
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