[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[June 30, 1998]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]
Remarks in a Roundtable Discussion on Shaping China for the 21st Century
in Shanghai, China
June 30, 1998
The President. Let me begin by thanking all of you for agreeing to
participate in this roundtable discussion. I want to say that the
purpose of this discussion is to help me and my wife and the American
people, through us, understand the changes that are going on in modern
China, the challenges that are out there, and what all of you are doing
in your various lives to deal with these changes.
For us, this is a very exciting opportunity to come here, to see
what is going on, and also to try to come to grips with the areas where
China and the United States can cooperate, the areas where we still have
differences, and how we might not only manage those differences but even
work together there to try to come to some common agreement.
Everyone understands that there is a new China emerging in the world
that is more prosperous, more open, and more dynamic. I have been to a
small village near Xi'an where people now elect their local officials. I
have already had the opportunity to meet with some small-business people
and others who are agents of change in the modern China. But this is
really the first opportunity I have had to meet with such a diverse
group of Chinese citizens who are active in so many different areas.
So I hope that you will help us to understand what is going on and
to speak with us frankly and openly, and understand that what we want is
to build the right sort of partnership and friendship with the Chinese
people over the long run into the 21st century.
If I could begin, I think I would like to ask Professor Zhu, how has
China changed in the last couple of years, and what is the role of the
legal profession in this change?
[Zhu Lanye, vice dean of the International
Department, East China University of Politics and Law, stated that in
the school she graduated from, the student population had doubled to
4,000 students, with over 400 graduate students, and that the number of
law schools in China had increased from 2 to 14, reflecting China's need
for more lawyers due to a major increase in civil cases.]
The President. Mr. Wang has been a consumer advocate, and we have
read about you in the American press. I wonder if you could follow up on
what Professor Zhu said in terms of the work you do. Do you believe that
the quality of products, consumer products is getting better?--first
question. And tell us what the relationship is between what you do and
the legal profession. Can people have adequate access to legal remedies
if they are sold inferior products?
[Consumer advocate, author, and newspaper columnist Wang Hai stated that China had promulgated consumer protection
laws in 1984, but prior to that had placed emphasis on the collective
interest as opposed to consumer interests. Mr. Wang said his company
consulted with consumers and companies whose rights had been violated.
He indicated that he was viewed as immoral and asked if consumer
advocates in the United States were also viewed this way.]
The President. No. Interestingly enough, many of our governments in
what you would call the province level, our State governments and some
of our larger city governments, actually have their own consumer
advocates, people who are employees of the government whose job it is to
work to find out things that are being done, in effect, that work a
fraud, that are unfair or illegal to consumers when they buy homes, when
they buy cars, when they buy other products. So, in our country, people
who find those kinds of problems very often are themselves employees of
the government and generally are quite highly regarded.
Now, of course, if they find a very big company doing something
that's going to be very expensive to fix, they're sometimes criticized
by the company. But by and large, consumer advocates enjoy a very
favorable position in American society. It has not always been so, but I
would say that for the last 20 to 25 years they do.
I would like to ask our novelist, Ms. Wang, to talk a little bit
about how the atmosphere for writers, for artists, movie makers, other
creative people has changed in China in the last few years. How would
you describe those changes?
[Novelist Wang Xiaoying stated that great
changes had taken place in China in her area of interest. She indicated
that she had signed contracts with three publishing houses and said her
problem was not whether she could publish but whether she could produce
enough good novels. Ms. Wang then asked the President if literature had
an impact on his life.]
The President. Oh, yes, very much, and I think not only for
enjoyment but also for enlightenment. We have many books of literature,
all kinds of prose and poetry published in America every year and
heavily taught in our schools and, at least in our case, widely
discussed in our home with our daughter. She
is now reading books in the university that, if we haven't read them,
she wants to know why, and she expects us to try to understand those
So I would say that for millions and millions of Americans,
literature is a very important force in their lives. And every week in
our newspapers, there is a publication of the best-selling books and the
books that are in hardcover, the books that are in paperback. So it's
quite a large part of American life, I think.
I would like to ask Madame Xie if you could tell us a little bit
about, from your perspective, how China has been changing, and in
particular, whether there is any difference in university life and the
emphasis that the young people are placing on different areas of study.
[Xie Xide, former president of Fudan University,
stated that the Chinese policy of reform had brought great benefits. She
indicated that Fudan University sent 1,400 teachers to study abroad or
to serve as visiting scholars and that 80 percent came back to play
important roles at the university. She added that increasingly the best
students went into law, business administration, or economics.]
The President. If I could just follow up on that and perhaps anyone,
professors, who would like to comment on this--when I was talking with
President Jiang he said, ``I am trained as an
engineer, and Premier Zhu Rongji is trained as an
engineer.'' They were both mayor of Shanghai. The present mayor of
Shanghai, we were walking down and he said, ``I am
an engineer.'' And he said, ``We were all trained in an era when we had
to build China. We had to build things. We had to know how to do things
that people did with their hands. And now that we have a more complex
society, and people's rights have to be protected, for example, in what
they buy, and we have to work out the complex relationships between
people in a market economy, we need more lawyers.'' I think China only
has like 115,000 lawyers, something like that. And, so, I wonder if
maybe the changes are not a necessary evolution of the change in
Participant. Well, there are a lot of students who are very
interested in law subjects. Well, in China we do not have sufficient
lawyers, and in your country you have plenty. And so many American
friends told me that ``we can export some of them to you.'' [Laughter]
The President. I tell President Jiang we have too many lawyers and
too few engineers. So maybe instead of changing all the courses in the
universities, we should just trade each other. We'll give you lawyers;
you could give us engineers. [Laughter]
[A participant noted that while many students applied to study law, only
a quarter of the applicants qualified and were accepted. Hillary
Clinton then introduced Wu Qidi, president of Tongji University, who stated that the
current focus in higher education was economic development but that her
university was moving to more diverse academic pursuits, gearing the
students toward participating in the global economy. She stated that as
more Chinese teachers worked and studied abroad, they became more aware
of the need for change in the university educational system. She then
said that China needed science and technology to support sustainable
economic development and asked if the President thought that greater
openness in the future between the two countries would go beyond
exchanges of faculty and students.]
The President. Yes, I do, and I believe it is very important. We are
trying to do two things in the United States. One is to make sure more
of our young people, wherever they live, even if they live in very poor
communities, are exposed at an early age to science and technology. We
are trying to connect all of our schools to the Internet by the year
2000, because our goal is to take the very remote schools, the schools
in the poorest urban neighborhood, and make sure they can have a
connection and access to information that anybody anywhere in the world
has. I think that is important.
Then we also want to have more cooperation internationally. Perhaps
the most successful part of the U.S.-China partnership in the last few
years has been our cooperation in science and technology, although
because there has been no great conflict, it's very often not in the
news. But Chinese and American scientists, for example, discovered that
children born with spina bifida, which is a very painful childhood birth
problem, largely come from mothers that didn't have enough folic acid.
So it changed the whole way the world viewed this terrible problem.
Chinese and American scientists have learned more about how to predict
earthquakes and other natural disasters. So I think we have to do more
And then the third area is the one you mentioned of technology
transfer. We are now implementing our peaceful uses of nuclear energy
agreement. I personally believe that in the energy area it's the most
I asked President Jiang if we could have a
major focus of our science and technology partnership in the future be
on the relationship of energy use to the environment, because America is
the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, warming the climate. China will
soon be larger than America. So we have this huge challenge, how to
allow China to continue to grow--how can Shanghai build more beautiful
buildings like this and have people have good places to live and all of
that--and still not destroy the environment of the world.
The scientists know that this can be done. Most political leaders
and business leaders don't believe it. Most political and business
leaders think this is a problem my grandchildren will deal with: ``I
have to create wealth now; I have to create opportunity.'' Scientists
know we can grow the economy and improve the environment. So I think
this will be the biggest challenge for us.
Now, in terms of the technology transfer, one last thing. We are
working very hard to deal with the so-called national security
implications of technology transfer. Sometimes they are quite real. So
we are working through that. But I think in the energy and environment
area we will have no problems. And there will be more of this.
I think I would like to, if I might, just go on to Professor Zuo,
because I know you've done a lot of work on migrant research. And one of
the most interesting things to us here is how China is managing the
growth of its large cities. And in America we have a similar phenomenon,
mostly because of immigration coming from beyond our borders. But we
still allow about a million people a year, just under a million people a
year, to come legally to the United States from other countries. And
most of them come to large cities. And so some of our cities are
growing, as Shanghai is growing. And perhaps you could tell us about the
challenges that that presents and what you are doing in your research.
[Zuo Xuejin, vice president of the Shanghai
Academy of Social Sciences, stated that since the mid-eighties, the
population flow within China had been tremendous, with people from rural
areas seeking greater opportunities in urban areas. He said that while
this migration had caused concern to urban Chinese because they feared
limited job opportunities for themselves, the migration had been
controlled and services increased for migrants. He then discussed his
experiences in the United States and the influence of American culture
in China, giving specific examples which ranged from fast-food
restaurants to jeans and movies, and concluded that there was much to be
shared by China and the United States.]
The President. If I could just make two brief points. First of all,
as to the last point you made about films and travel, even though we
have more and more access to each other, to our information and to our
ideas over the Internet--and some day I suppose people will--every time
someone like Ms. Wang writes a new book, someone will be in a matter of
days able to pull it up on the Internet and read it all over the world
in their own language. I still think that it's actually important to
have these people-to-people exchanges and to have more American
students, for example, coming to China and more Chinese going to
America. I think that's very important.
I feel the same way about the movies. I actually have seen some
Chinese movies I thought were extraordinarily powerful movies. And I
think we should have more of that and we should be--we should encourage
our artists to come here. And of course, there's so many Chinese-
American artists that would give anything to perform in China and would
feel very honored about that. So I hope that we will be
open and that the governments will encourage more of that.
The only other point I wanted to make is just--about your research
and how you deal with these millions of people that are coming here to
find work. This is a global issue. There are many cities that have
nowhere near the opportunities that Shanghai does in other parts of the
world, that are still growing by leaps and bounds all the time, because
even though there are huge numbers of poor people in these cities, there
is still a chance that the city life will be better than it is in the
rural areas in other countries.
So if you look at the whole world--if you look at Africa, if you
look at the Middle East and Central Asia, if you look at all these
places, you have cities growing by leaps and bounds in countries that
have been poor. And as I said, in our country, it's a place where we try
to manage all the new immigrant populations, and we have all the same
challenges you do, plus, often, language differences. So I would just
say that this is an area where, again, we may be able to cooperate and
where we need to help, even beyond our borders, deal with these vast
migration flows. They will be one of the central, defining trends, in my
view, of the next 30 to 40 years. And so I thank you for that.
[Noting that the President would be young when he left office, a
participant asked if he planned to return to his law practice and, if
so, remain in Washington or move back to Arkansas.]
The President. I was hoping you would offer me a position here.
Participant. No, you don't speak Chinese. [Laughter]
The President. I'm not too old to learn. [Laughter] Actually, I am
the third youngest President ever, and I think the second youngest to be
elected. President Theodore Roosevelt and President John Kennedy were
both a little younger than me when they took office. So I'll be about 54
when I leave office, and I don't intend to retire. But I haven't decided
what to do yet or where to do it--except I will always have a home in my
home State, in Arkansas, and I intend to build a library there to house
my Presidential papers and to tell the story of the time in which I
served as President. But beyond that, I have not made any final plans.
So maybe I will apply for a visiting professorship. [Laughter]
Participant. We welcome you to our university as a visiting
professor. You are more than welcome. [Laughter]
Mrs. Clinton. I know that we want
to hear from all the panelists, and I'd like to hear from the young man,
Mr. Zeng, who has been so successful in the----
The President. He's not here, is he?
Mrs. Clinton. He's not here? There he is, back there.
The President. You may talk if you like.
Mrs. Clinton. Yes, about the Internet, because you were talking
about the Internet and the explosion of the Internet. And what I'm
interested in is, are there any restrictions on access to the Internet
The President. Please come up here and use Ms. Wang's microphone.
Edward Zeng. Right now it's just purely in
the application form, you can get it right away.
Mrs. Clinton. Right away. So there's no restrictions, universally
available to anyone who has the funds to have access to it.
Mr. Zeng. Yes, and also the growing rate is very fast. We are
talking about more than 1 million right now.
Mrs. Clinton. More than 1 million----
Mr. Zeng. Internet users.
Mrs. Clinton. Internet users. In the entire country?
Mr. Zeng. Yes.
Mrs. Clinton. And so what is the rate of increase, do you think, in
terms of projection?
Mr. Zeng. By the year 2000, maybe around 5 million. So we're talking
about 30 percent growth rate.
[Mrs. Clinton asked how the information explosion was affecting the vast
majority of the people of China. Edward Zeng,
chief executive officer of Unicom-Sparkice Information Network, answered
that there were ongoing efforts to provide a virtual office for small
and medium-sized business and that he operated a cyber cafe that was
experiencing a 30 percent monthly growth rate.]
The President. Let me ask you one question about your Internet
figures. This library has an Internet room upstairs. I just visited it.
Is it really possible to know how many Internet users there are? I mean,
how do you know?
[Mr. Zeng explained that each user had to submit an application and that
each had an IP address which would allow an accurate count of users. He
then asked if there was an opportunity for exchange between Chinese and
American small and medium businesses.]
Mrs. Clinton. That's something that we'll look into and see if we
can get you some information about that.
The President. There is probably more growth among new companies
this area than any other area in the American economy. It's exploding.
So it may be that someone is following this conversation right now, and
you'll get a call within 30 minutes, for all I know. [Laughter] But we
will see what we can do.
[Mrs. Clinton asked Bishop Jin
Luxian of the Shanghai Catholic diocese how he
would describe the recent changes in China. Bishop Jin responded that he
was responsible for 78 churches with 160,000 followers and that he had
priests from all over the world. He stated that some of the initiatives
underway were training abroad for students, a large religious publishing
house, translations of Christian texts, and computer training for
students. He said that there were no restrictions on religious beliefs
in China, and that he had sought a dialog with the Chinese Government
rather than a contentious relationship.]
The President. Thank you, sir.
I would like to ask Mr. Wu now to talk a little bit. I know that
you're a professor of American studies, and perhaps you have some
observations about how the relations between our two countries have
changed in the last few years and what advice you could give us going
[Wu Xinbo, a professor at the Center for American
Studies of Fudan University, stated that many Chinese worried that the
United States was trying to contain a growing China. He cited the areas
of disagreement between the two countries, including Taiwan, but said
there had been a major shift in the U.S. China policy since 1996. He
said he believed that economic cooperation would grow in the future and
cited President Clinton's open exchange on human rights with President
Jiang at the recent news conference as a sign of a maturing
The President. Well, first let me thank you for what you said. I do
believe that my coming here and the work we've done in the last 2 years,
President Jiang's trip to the United States, has
helped to resolve some of the misunderstandings. I had a chance to
reiterate our Taiwan policy, which is that we don't support independence
for Taiwan, or two Chinas, or one Taiwan/one China. And we don't believe
that Taiwan should be a member in any organization for which statehood
is a requirement. So I think we have consistent policy.
Our only policy has been that we think it has to be done peacefully.
That is what our law says, and we have encouraged the cross-strait
dialog. And I think eventually it will bear fruit if everyone is patient
and works hard.
I also agree that the human rights dialog I had with President
Jiang was a good thing. I hope it will lead to
more open discussion here. And I would be encouraged if that happened.
Let me, if I could, I'd like to ask you a more personal question. I
read in your--I got a little biography of all of you before I came here,
and I would like to ask--I noticed that you were born in a small rural
community, like me. All my mother's people came from a community,
actually, that never had more than 150 people, although I was born in
the largest city in my little area, which had at the time 6,000 people.
One of the struggles we work at all the time in the States is trying
to make sure that our children, no matter where they're born--if they're
born in some remote rural area or some very poor area in the inner
city--that they still have a chance, if they have ability, as you
obviously did, to live the future of their imaginations and their
Do you believe that you have a system now in China which would give
every boy and girl growing up in a small rural village like you the
chance that you had to become what you have become?
[Mr. Wu stated that his experience was very typical, noting that despite
his poor circumstances he was able to get an education and that the
Government had made a great effort to popularize 9 years of compulsory
The President. Dr. Wu and Madame Xie and anyone else, what
percentage of the students in your university come from poorer families
where the parents of the students had no education to speak of?
[A participant said that about 15 percent of the students had poor
family backgrounds, noting that many foundations' mission was to help
poor children return to school. The participant stated that while many
students in remote areas found it difficult to participate in national
exams, they received equal treatment when they reached the university.
The participant also noted that while girls in the past had not received
much family support, they were currently half of the university
population. Another participant added that girls pursued law degrees
more than math and science degrees and that they were under-represented
at the graduate student levels. The participant noted that financing for
education was the major problem and that local governments often opted
instead for investment in areas which would show economic returns to the
The President. I think what will happen in China--I believe this
will happen because of the technological revolution--I think in your
economic growth you will almost leap over a whole generation of economic
experiences that older European countries and perhaps the United States
experienced, where you will essentially be creating an industrialized
and a post-industrial society at the same time. And therefore, more
quickly, you will have to educate more people at higher levels than we
Because what happened in the 20th century in America is, first,
everyone had about--you know, first, education was the province of the
elite. And then everyone got about 4 years of education, and then 6, and
then we went finally to high school education. And then when I became
President, about half of our young people are going on to university.
Now people are actually coming back to university in huge numbers. The
average age of our university student is going higher because we have
more people not only coming right out of our high schools but also
coming back from society, because everyone recognizes now that we have
to universalize very high levels of education because of the way the
So I think that this will happen in China more quickly just because
of this moment in history, and I think it will be a very good thing.
I wanted to--I know we're about to run out of time, but I wanted to
ask a couple of more questions. Go ahead, Professor Xie, do you want to
make a point? Because my question is unrelated to this, so go ahead.
Participant. [Inaudible]--continue this discussion, but we know you
have a very busy schedule. And we're very glad to be here to discuss our
life here with you and we thank you for listening.
The President. Thank you. I want to ask two quick questions, one of
[A participant asked Mrs. Clinton
what impact the media attention had on her personal life. Mrs. Clinton
said that people read meaning into everything she did as First Lady,
even when no meaning was intended. She related the situation to a larger
set of expectations and stereotypes imposed by society and faced by all
women, regardless of geography or culture.]
Participant. Thank you very much.
The President. Go ahead, Mr. Wang.
[Mr. Wang stated that in China there were potential conflicts of
interest within the consumer protection process, in that store managers
could also hold positions and exert influence in consumer rights groups,
and asked about the situation in the United States.]
The President. Well, in the United States a consumer in the position
that you just mentioned--let's say someone bought something in a
department store and it was defective; I would say there might be four
things that could happen. And I don't want to complicate the answer, but
I have to give you a complete answer.
First of all, in America we have pretty clear laws on this, and so
the best companies would just take the merchandise back and give the
person his money back or give the person a new product, because they
wouldn't want to get a reputation of being unfair to consumers or a
reputation of selling bad products. So the first thing the person would
do is to take it back, because of the laws.
Now, secondly, the person might go to the consumer advocate in the
government. That's the one I talked to you about. Suppose this happened
in New York City. Well, New York City has a Consumer Affairs Bureau.
Now, maybe some times it's more active for the consumers than others,
depending on whether the mayor believes in this cause or not.
So if there's no opportunity there, then the person would have
either an independent consumer group--there are some--or you could go
into court and pursue your remedy there.
So I don't think there's a problem of having the consumer groups
themselves too tied to the manufacturers. And if there's a pattern or
practice of selling bad products, then it's almost certain that there
would be a remedy found in our courts.
[Mr. Wang stated that in China, even when a case went to court and an
award was made, getting the court decision enforced was difficult. He
asked if that was possible in the United States.]
Mrs. Clinton. It is. And sometimes even after people get a judgment,
they have to continue to work very hard through the legal system to
enforce their judgment. So it's a continuing problem.
The President. You mentioned--you said, well, sometimes if there's a
good store with a good brand name, that you won't have these problems,
but if people are selling off-brands or off the street, or whatever,
they might. You have real problems in America sometimes in enforcing
these orders if it's difficult to find the company that sold the product
or difficult to find their bank account.
[Mrs. Clinton asked if there were any additional points the participants
would like to make to present to the American people a broader, more
accurate perception of China. A participant stated that her 5-year-old's
childhood would be much better than her own, but that changes in China
would take time to evolve. She said that the United States should be
more understanding of the evolution of human rights and democracy in
China and stressed that understanding could be enhanced by publication
of Chinese literature in the United States. Bishop Jin then said that
the Shanghai Catholic diocese had set up primary schools in the
provinces to address the education needs of poor children and was
interested in projects at the university level as well.]
The President. Thank you very much. If I could close, I would just
like to make a couple of points. First of all, thank you all very much
for being here. For me and for Hillary and I think for the Members of
Congress and the Secretary of State
and the members of our delegation, this has been an enriching
experience. And I have a much, I think, better feel for what is going on
in modern China.
Secondly, if I might just close with a few words about our
perspective on this whole issue of the relationship between social
progress and individual rights or human rights.
I think there are basically three different categories of issues
here, and I'd leave these thoughts with you. When it comes to just
creating more opportunity for people to have a better life and
refraining from oppressing people in horrible ways, I think it's obvious
that China since the end of the Cultural Revolution has made enormous
progress, almost unprecedented for any society in human history.
And then there's the second category of problems, which is just the
basic legal problems or personal problems that people find in a complex
society, whether it's consumer protection problems or--Hillary yesterday was talking to some people who were
involved in legal work in Beijing, and there was a woman who got a
divorce from a husband who had been abusing her. But their apartment
house came to him because of his work, so where does she live now with
their child? Those kinds of problems. I agree with what Madame Xie said.
We have to--these rule-of-law issues, we need to just keep working
through these and work together on them.
But in the third area I think there is still some considerable
difference, and that is, to what extent does a different political
opinion or a different religious conviction enrich a society and make it
stronger, and to what extent does it promote instability and weaken the
enormous work that has to be done?
And I think that we just have to kind of be honest here. China has
had many challenges. It's a much bigger country than the United States.
It's coming very far very fast. And I think there is a tendency among
the Chinese, in government and perhaps in the society, to see these
kinds of political or religious dissents as--at least to be very
supersensitive to the prospect of instability, because China has
suffered in the past from instability.
In the United States, because of our history, there is always a
tendency to believe that anybody's political opinion and religious
expression deserves great protection and great respect and, no matter
how different it is from ours, that allowing the widest possible room
of political and religious feelings makes a country stronger, a society
stronger over the long run. That has been our experience.
So I think we have to understand our two perspectives and honestly
confront these things as they present difficulties in our relationship
and look at them as opportunities to try to build a common future,
because I do think that, as I said in Beijing in the press conference I
had with President Jiang and at the university,
the forces of history are driving us toward a common future. We have to
build a common future. And so it's important that we be able to discuss
these things in an open way.
I think all of you did a terrific job today expressing your point of
view and also giving my fellow Americans and I a window on modern China.
And we thank you very much.
Mrs. Clinton. Thank you.
The President. Thank you.
Note: The President spoke at 9:41 a.m. at the Shanghai Library. In his
remarks, he referred to President Jiang Zemin of China and Mayor Xu
Kuangdi of Shanghai. The Chinese participants spoke in Chinese, and
their remarks were translated by interpreters, except for Edward Zeng,
who spoke in English.