[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1999, Book I)]
[April 7, 1999]
[Pages 506-512]
[From the U.S. Government Printing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks to the United States Institute of Peace
April 7, 1999

    Thank you, Richard. Max 
Kampelman, thank you for being with me 
today. And I thank the U.S. Institute for Peace for arranging this 
presentation on, as I'm sure all of you know, relatively short notice.
    I'd also like to acknowledge the presence here with me today of 
Secretary Albright and Ambassador 
Barshefsky, National Security Adviser 
Berger, and two important former members of 
my national security team, Tony Lake and Tara 
Sonenshine, who is a senior adviser here to 
the Institute for Peace.
    I would like to begin just by thanking this body for what you do 
every day to help our administration and the Congress and the American 
people think through the most challenging foreign policy issues of our 
time. And I thank you in particular for your determination to reach out 
to a younger generation of Americans to talk to them about the 
importance of these issues and the world they will live in.
    In February I gave a speech in San Francisco about America's role in 
the century to come. We all know it's an extraordinary moment when there 
is no overriding threat to our security, when no great power need feel 
that any other is a military threat, when freedom is expanding, and open 
markets and technology are raising living standards on every continent, 
bringing the world closer together in countless ways.
    But I also argued that globalization is not an unmixed blessing. In 
fact, the benefits of globalization, openness and opportunity, depend on 
the very things globalization alone cannot guarantee: peace, democracy, 
the stability of markets, social justice, the protection of health and 
the environment.
    Globalization can bring repression and human rights violations and 
suffering into the open, but it cannot prevent them. It can promote 
integration among nations but also lead to disintegration within them. 
It can bring prosperity on every continent but still leave many, many 
people behind. It can give people the modern tools of the 21st century, 
but it cannot purge their hearts of the primitive hatreds that may lead 
to the misuse of those tools. Only national governments, working 
together, can reap the full promise and reduce the problems of the 21st 
    The United States, as the largest and strongest country in the world 
at this moment--largest in economic terms and military terms--has the 
unavoidable responsibility to lead in this increasingly interdependent 
world, to try to help meet the challenges of this new era.
    Clearly, our first challenge is to build a more peaceful world, one 
that will apparently be dominated by ethnic and religious conflicts we 
once thought of--primitive but which Senator

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Moynihan, for example, has referred 
to now as postmodern. We know that we cannot stop all such conflicts. 
But when the harm is great and when our values and interests are at 
stake and when we have the means to make a difference, we should try.
    That is what we and our NATO Allies are doing in Kosovo, trying to 
end the horrible war there, trying to aid the struggling democracies of 
southeastern Europe, all of whom are threatened by the violence, the 
hatred, the human exodus President Milosevic's brutal campaign has unleashed. We are determined to 
stay united and to persist until we prevail.
    It is not enough now for Mr. Milosevic to say that his forces will cease fire in Kosovo, 
denied its freedom and devoid of its people. He must withdraw his 
forces, let the refugees return, permit the deployment of an 
international security force. Nothing less will bring peace with 
security to the people of Kosovo.
    The second challenge I discussed in San Francisco in February is 
that of bringing our former adversaries Russia and China into the 
international system as open, prosperous, and stable nations. Today I 
want to speak especially about our relationship with China, one that is 
being tested and hotly debated today as China's Premier, Zhu Rongji, travels to Washington.
    Of course, we all know that perceptions affect policies. And 
American perceptions about China have often changed in this century. In 
the early 1900's, most Americans saw China through the eyes of 
missionaries seeking open hearts or traders seeking open markets. During 
World War II, China was our ally, during the Korean war, our adversary. 
During the cold war, we debated whether China was a solid stone in the 
monolith of world communism or a country with interests and traditions 
that could make it a counterweight to Soviet power.
    More recently, many Americans have looked to China to see either the 
world's next great capitalist tiger and an enormous mother lode of 
economic opportunity for American companies and American workers or the 
world's largest great Communist dragon and next great threat to freedom 
and security.
    For a long time, it seems to me, we have argued about China with 
competing caricatures. Is this a country to be engaged or isolated? Is 
this a country beyond our power to influence or a country that is ours 
to gain and ours to lose? Now we hear that China is a country to be 
feared. A growing number of people say that it is the next great threat 
to our security and our well-being.
    What about this argument? Well, those who say it point out, 
factually, that if China's economy continues to grow on its present 
trajectory, it will be the world's largest in the next century. They 
argue, correctly, that the Chinese Government often defines its 
interests in ways sharply divergent from ours. They are concerned, 
rightly, by Chinese missiles aimed at Taiwan and at others. From this 
they conclude that China is or will be our enemy.
    They claim it is building up its military machine for aggression and 
using the profits of our trade to pay for it. They urge us, therefore, 
to contain China, to deny it access to our markets, our technology, our 
investment, and to bolster the strength of our allies in Asia to counter 
the threat a strong China will pose in the 21st century.
    What about that scenario? Clearly, if it chooses to do so, China 
could pursue such a course, pouring much more of its wealth into 
military might and into traditional great power geopolitics. Of course, 
this would rob it of much of its future prosperity, and it is far from 
inevitable that China will choose this path. Therefore, I would argue 
that we should not make it more likely that China will choose this path 
by acting as if that decision has already been made.
    I say this over and over again, but when I see this China debate in 
America, with people talking about how we've got to contain China, and 
they present a terrible threat to us in the future and it's inevitable 
and how awful it is, I remind people who work with us that the same kind 
of debate is going on in China, people saying, ``The Americans do not 
want us to emerge. They do not want us to have our rightful position in 
the world. Their whole strategy is designed to keep us down on the 
    And we have to follow a different course. We cannot afford 
caricatures. I believe we have to work for the better future that we 
want, even as we remain prepared for any outcome. This approach will 
clearly put us at odds with those who believe America must always have a 
great enemy. How can you be the great force for good in the world and 
justify all the things you do if you don't have a great enemy?
    I don't believe that. I believe we have to work for the best but do 
it in a way that will

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never leave us unprepared in the event that our efforts do not succeed.
    Among the first decisions I made in 1993 was to preserve the 
alliances that kept the peace during the cold war. That meant in Asia, 
we kept 100,000 troops there and maintained robust alliances with Japan, 
Korea, Thailand, Australia, and the Philippines. We did this and have 
done it not to contain China or anyone else but to give confidence to 
all that the potential threats to Asia's security will remain just that, 
potential, and that America remains committed to being involved with 
Asia and to Asia's stability.
    We've maintained our strong, unofficial ties to a democratic Taiwan 
while upholding our ``one China'' policy. We've encouraged both sides to 
resolve their differences peacefully and to have increased contact. 
We've made it clear that neither can count on our acceptance if it 
violates these principles.
    We know that in the past decade, China has increased its deployment 
of missiles near Taiwan. When China tested some of those missiles in 
1996, tensions grew in the Taiwan Straits. We demonstrated then, with 
the deployment of our carriers, that America will act to prevent a 
miscalculation there. Our interests lie in peace and stability in Taiwan 
and in China, in the strait and in the region, and in a peaceful 
resolution of the differences. We will do what is necessary to maintain 
our interests.
    Now, we have known since the early 1980's that China has nuclear 
armed missiles capable of reaching the United States. Our defense 
posture has and will continue to take account of that reality. In part, 
because of our engagement, China has, at best, only marginally increased 
its deployed nuclear threat in the last 15 years. By signing the 
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, China has accepted constraints on its 
ability to modernize its arsenal at a time when the nuclear balance 
remains overwhelmingly in our favor. China has fewer than two dozen 
long-range nuclear weapons today; we have over 6,000.
    We are determined to prevent the diversion of technology and 
sensitive information to China. The restrictions we place on our exports 
to China are tougher than those applied to any other major exporting 
country in the world.
    When we first learned, in 1995, that a compromise had occurred at 
our weapons labs, our first priority was to find the leak, to stop it, 
and to prevent further damage. When the Energy Department and the FBI 
discovered wider vulnerabilities, we launched a comprehensive effort to 
address them. Last year I issued a directive to dramatically strengthen 
security at the Energy labs. We have increased the Department's 
counterintelligence budget by fifteenfold since 1995.
    But we need to be sure we're getting the job done. Last month I 
asked the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, an 
independent, bipartisan body chaired by former Senator Warren 
Rudman, to review the security threat and 
the adequacy of the measures we have taken to address it. It is vital 
that we meet this challenge with firmness and openness but without fear.
    The issue is how to respond to this. I believe we should not look at 
China through rose-colored glasses, nor should we look through a glass 
darkly to see an image that distorts China's strength and ignores its 
complexities. We need to see China clearly, its progress and its 
problems, its system and its strains, its policies and its perceptions 
of us, of itself, of the world. Indeed, we should apply a bit of 
universal wisdom that China's late leader, Deng Xiaoping, used to 
preach: We should seek the truth from facts.
    In the last 20 years, China has made incredible progress in building 
a new economy, lifting more than 200 million people out of absolute 
poverty. But consider this: Its working age population is increasing by 
more than 10 million people, the equivalent of the State of Illinois, 
every year. Tens of millions of Chinese families are migrating from the 
countryside, where they see no future, to the city where only some find 
work. Due in part to the Asian economic crisis, China's economic growth 
is slowing just when it needs to be rising to create jobs for the 
unemployed and to maintain support for economic reform.
    For all the progress of China's reforms, private enterprise still 
accounts for less than 20 percent of the nonfarm economy. Much of 
China's landscape is still dominated by unprofitable, polluting state 
industries. China state banks are still making massive loans to 
struggling state firms, the sector of the economy least likely to 
    Now, I've met with Premier Zhu before. I know, 
and I think all of you know, that he is committed to making necessary, 
far-reaching changes. He and President Jiang are 
working to reform banks and state enterprises and to

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fight corruption. Indeed, one of China's highest public security 
officials was arrested several weeks ago on corruption charges.
    They also know that in the short run, reform will cause more 
unemployment, and that can cause unrest. But so far, they've been 
unwilling to open up China's political system because they see that as 
contributing to instability--when, in fact, giving people a say in their 
decisions actually provides a peaceful outlet for venting frustration.
    China's biggest challenge in the coming years will be to maintain 
stability and growth at home by meeting, not stifling, the growing 
demands of its people for openness and accountability. It is easy for us 
to say; for them, it is a daunting task.
    What does all this mean for us? Well, if we've learned anything in 
the last few years from Japan's long recession and Russia's current 
economic troubles, it is that the weaknesses of great nations can pose 
as big a challenge to America as their strengths. So as we focus on the 
potential challenge that a strong China could present to the United 
States in the future, let us not forget the risk of a weak China, beset 
by internal conflicts, social dislocation, and criminal activity, 
becoming a vast zone of instability in Asia.
    Despite Beijing's best efforts to rein in these problems, we have 
seen the first danger signs: free-wheeling Chinese enterprises selling 
weapons abroad; the rise in China of organized crime; stirrings of 
ethnic tensions and rural unrest; the use of Chinese territory for 
heroin trafficking; and even piracy of ships at sea. In short, we're 
seeing in China the kinds of problems a society can face when it is 
moving away from the rule of fear but is not yet firmly rooted in the 
rule of law.
    The solutions fundamentally lie in the choices China makes. But I 
think we would all agree, we have an interest in seeking to make a 
difference and in not pretending that the outcome is foreordained. We 
can't do that simply by confronting China or trying to contain her. We 
can only deal with the challenge if we continue a policy of principled, 
purposeful engagement with China's leaders and China's people.
    Our long-term strategy must be to encourage the right kind of 
development in China; to help China grow at home into a strong, 
prosperous, and open society, coming together, not falling apart; to 
integrate China into the institutions that promote global norms on 
proliferation, trade, the environment, and human rights. We must build 
on opportunities for cooperation with China where we agree, even as we 
strongly defend our interests and values where we disagree. That is the 
purpose of engagement: not to insulate our relationship from the 
consequences of Chinese actions but to use our relationship to influence 
China's actions in a way that advances our values and our interests.
    That is what we have done for the last 6 years, with the following 
tangible results: In no small measure as a result of our engagement, 
China helped us to convince North Korea to freeze the production of 
plutonium and, for now, to refrain from more missile tests. It has been 
our partner in averting a nuclear confrontation in South Asia. Not long 
ago, China was selling dangerous weapons and technologies with impunity. 
Since the 1980's, it has joined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, 
the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Biological Weapons Convention, and 
the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and accepted the safeguards, reporting 
requirements, and inspection systems that go with each.
    We have also convinced China not to provide new assistance to Iran's 
nuclear program, to stop selling Iran antiship cruise missiles, and to 
halt assistance to unsafeguarded nuclear facilities in Pakistan. Now 
it's important that China join the Missile Technology Control Regime, a 
step President Jiang agreed to consider at last year's summit in 
    We also have an interest in integrating China into the world trading 
system and in seeing it join the World Trade Organization on clearly 
acceptable, commercial terms. This is a goal America has been working 
toward in a bipartisan fashion for 13 years now. Getting this done and 
getting it done right is profoundly in our national interests. It is not 
a favor to China; it is the best way to level the playing field.
    China already has broad access to our markets, as you can see from 
any perusal of recent trade figures. If China accepts the 
responsibilities that come with WTO membership, that will give us broad 
access to China's markets, while accelerating its internal reforms and 
propelling it toward acceptance of the rule of law. The bottom line is 
this: If China is willing to play by the global rules of trade, it would 
be an inexplicable mistake for the United States to say no.

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    We have an interest as well in working with China to preserve the 
global environment. Toward the middle of the next century, China will 
surpass the United States as the world's largest emitter of greenhouse 
gases. At last year's summit in China, I made it clear there can be no 
meaningful solution to this problem unless China is a part of it. But I 
also emphasized, as I do over and over again, with sometimes mixed 
effect, that rapidly developing technologies now make it possible for 
China--indeed, for India, for any other developing economy--to be 
environmentally responsible without sacrificing economic growth.
    That challenge is at the top of Vice President Gore's agenda on the forum on environment and development he 
shares with Premier Zhu. It will be meeting this 
    We have been encouraging the development of clean natural gas in 
China and cleaner technologies for burning coal. We've been working with 
China on a study of emissions trading, a tool that has cut pollution at 
low cost in the United States and which could do the same for China. In 
the information age, China need not, indeed, China will not be able to 
grow its economy by clinging to industrial age energy practices.
    Finally, let me say we have an interest in encouraging China to 
respect the human rights of its people and to give them a chance to 
shape the political destiny of their country. This is an interest that 
cuts to the heart of our concerns about China's future.
    Because wealth is generated by ideas today, China will be less 
likely to succeed if its people cannot exchange information freely. 
China also will be less likely to succeed if it does not build the legal 
and political foundation to compete for global capital, less likely to 
succeed if its political system does not gain the legitimacy that comes 
from democratic choice.
    China's leaders believe that significant political reform carries 
enormous risk of instability at this moment in their history. We owe it 
to any country to give a respectful listen to their stated policy about 
such matters. But the experience of the rest of Asia during this present 
economic crisis shows that the risks of delaying reform are greater than 
the risks of embracing it.
    As Indonesia learned, you cannot deal with social resentment by 
denying people the right to voice it. As Korea and Thailand have shown 
the world, expressed dissent is far less dangerous than repressed 
dissent. Both countries are doing better now because their elected 
governments have the legitimacy to pursue reform.
    In fact, almost every goal to which China's leaders are dedicated, 
from maintaining stability to rooting out corruption to reuniting 
peacefully with Taiwan, would actually be advanced if they embraced 
greater openness and accountability.
    We have promoted that goal by airing differences candidly and 
directly with China's leaders, by encouraging closer ties between 
American and Chinese people. Those ties have followed in the wake of 
official contacts and have the potential to bring change.
    The people-to-people ties have made it possible for over 100,000 
Chinese students and scholars to study in America and thousands of 
American teachers and scholars--students to go to China. They have 
enabled American nongovernmental organizations to help people in China 
set up NGO's of their own. They have allowed Americans to work with 
local governments, universities, and citizens' groups in China to save 
wetlands and forests, to manage urban growth, to support China's first 
private schools, to hook up schools to the Internet, to train 
journalists, to promote literacy for poor women, to make loans for 
Tibetan entrepreneurs, to begin countless projects that are sparking the 
growth of China's civil society. They have permitted Chinese lawyers, 
judges, and legal scholars to come to America to study our system.
    Now, we don't assume for a moment that this kind of engagement alone 
can give rise to political reform in China. But despite the obstacles 
they face, the Chinese people clearly enjoy more freedom, in where they 
work and where they live and where they go, than they did a decade ago.
    China has seen the emergence of political associations, consumer 
groups, tenant organizations, newspapers that expose corruption, and 
experiments in village democracy. It has seen workers demanding 
representation and a growing number of people seeking the right to form 
political parties, despite the persecution they face. I met with many 
such agents of change when I visited China last year.
    Of course, it is precisely because these changes are meaningful that 
the Chinese Government is pushing back. Its actions may be aimed at 
individuals, but they are clearly designed to send a message to all 
Chinese that

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they should not test the limits of political freedom. The message they 
send the world, however, is quite different. It is one of insecurity, 
not strength. We often see that a tight grip is actually a sign of a 
weak hand.
    Now, we have made it clear to China's leaders that we think it's 
simply wrong to arrest people whose only offense has been to engage in 
organized and peaceful political expression. That right is universally 
recognized, and democratic nations have a duty to defend it. That is why 
we are seeking support at the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva for 
a resolution on human rights in China.
    We will also urge China to embrace the International Covenant on 
Civil and Political Rights in word and in deed. We will keep pressing 
the Congress to fund programs that promote the rule of law in China. We 
will keep working to promote a dialog between China and the Dalai 
Lama and respect for Tibet's cultural and 
religious heritage.
    But there is one thing that we will not do. We will not change our 
policy in a way that isolates China from the global forces that have 
begun to empower the Chinese people to change their society and build a 
better future, for that would leave the people of China with less access 
to information, less contact with the democratic world, and more 
resistance from their government to outside influence and ideas.
    In all these areas, the debate China's policy has sparked in our 
country can be constructive by reminding us that we still face 
challenges in the world that require our vigilance. It can also remind 
the Chinese Government that the relationship between our two countries 
depends in large measure not only on the actions of the President and 
the executive branch but on the support of the American people and our 
Congress, which cannot be taken for granted.
    But as the next Presidential election approaches, we cannot allow a 
healthy argument to lead us toward a campaign-driven cold war with 
China, for that would have tragic consequences: an America riven by 
mistrust and bitter accusations; an end to diplomatic contact that has 
produced tangible gains for our people; a climate of mistrust that hurts 
Chinese-Americans and undermines the exchanges that are opening China to 
the world.
    No one could possibly gain from that except for the most rigid, 
backward-looking elements in China itself. Remember what I said at the 
outset: The debate we're having about China today in the United States 
is mirrored by a debate going on in China about the United States. And 
we must be sensitive to how we handle this and responsible.
    I know the vast majority of Americans and Members of Congress don't 
want this to happen. I will do everything in our power to see that it 
does not, so that we stay focused on our vital interests and the real 
challenges ahead.
    We have much to be concerned about: There is North Korea, South 
Asia, the potential for tensions in the Taiwan Strait and the South 
China Sea; there is the tragic plight of political prisoners; the 
possibility, also, that China will not realize its growth potential, 
that it will become unstable because of the distressed economy and angry 
    But we have every reason to approach our challenges with confidence 
and with patience. Our country, after all, now, is at the height of its 
power and the peak of its prosperity. Democratic values are ascendant 
throughout much of the world. And while we cannot know where China is 
heading for sure, the forces pulling China toward integration and 
openness are more powerful today than ever before. And these are the 
only forces that can make China a truly successful power, meeting the 
demands of its people and exercising appropriate and positive influence 
in the larger world in the 21st century.
    Such a China would indeed be stronger, but it also would be more at 
peace with itself and at ease with its neighbors. It would be a good 
thing for the Chinese people and for the American people.
    This has been the lodestar of our policy for the last 6 years--a 
goal that is consistent with our interests and that keeps faith with our 
values, an objective that we will continue to pursue, with your help and 
understanding, in the months and years ahead.
    This visit by Premier Zhu is very important. 
The issues that are raised from time to time, which cause tensions in 
our relationship, they are also very important. But I ask you at this 
Institute not to let the American people or American policymakers or 
American politicians in a political season lose sight of the larger 
interests we have in seeing that this very great country has the maximum 
possible chance to emerge a more stable, freer, more prosperous, more

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constructive partner with the United States in the new century.
    Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 10:33 a.m. in the East Room at the 
Mayflower Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to Richard H. Solomon, 
president and Max M. Kampelman, vice chair, U.S. Institute of Peace; 
President Slobodan Milosevic of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia 
(Serbia and Montenegro); Premier Zhu Rongji, former President Deng 
Xiaoping, and President Jiang Zemin of China. The President also 
referred to Presidential Decision Directive 61.