George W. Bush photo

Interview With Asian Editors

October 16, 2001

The President. Well, thank you for coming. First, let me give some introductory remarks.

First, I'm looking forward to my trip. I leave tomorrow morning. I leave with great anticipation of a very positive trip. First, I'm looking forward to going to Shanghai. I went there in 1975, when I visited my dad. And I understand it's a city transformed; it's a changed city. I look forward to seeing the changed city. It's going to be a very interesting experience.

Secondly, I'm looking forward to meeting with world leaders, leaders from China, my first experience.

I'm looking forward to seeing my friend the Prime Minister Koizumi again. I've had two or three meetings—three meetings with him, and we've got a very good relationship.

Finally, I'm looking forward to meeting with your leader as well, Kim Dae-jung. He was right here in the Oval Office the last time I saw him. I'm looking forward to a second meeting. We've got a lot to discuss.

So on the one hand, we'll have our joint meetings, and then we'll have the bilateral meetings. The joint meetings are important; the bilateral meetings are very important. And I'm really looking forward to it.

Obviously, I leave at a very difficult time in my country, because of these terrorist attacks, the recent anthrax that has made it in the news. On the other hand, I think it is very important for me to go, to not only discuss our economic interests and our bilateral interests but to continue to talk about the war on terrorists, terrorism. And it's also important for my Nation to see that I leave because of—that international affairs are still a very important part of making the world more safe.

I'll be glad to answer questions.

APEC Summit

Q. Mr. President, you are going to Shanghai for the APEC Summit. Could you tell me your opinion about the summit, and what's your expectation?

The President. Sure. I expect to have a very frank dialog with Jiang Zemin about— and I will tell him how important it is for the United States and China to have good relations. And I look forward to having an honest discussion with other world leaders about a variety of issues.

Obviously, the Korean Peninsula, we'll talk about the relationship between South and North Korea. As far as Japan goes, we'll talk about our national defense relations, as well as the Japanese economy, and Koizumi will want to know about our economy as well. And also, with all three leaders we'll be talking about trade and the need to fight against international terrorism.

So my expectations are very solid, that this will be a very good and a very important meeting.

Q. Second question?

The President. We'll go around; everybody will get to ask.

Upcoming Discussions With President Jiang Zemin of China

Q. Mr. President, you are going to meet our President, Mr. Jiang Zemin. What's the priority topic you're going to discuss?

The President. I think the first priority is, of course, for Jiang Zemin to look me in the eye, take the measure of the American President. We've only spoken over the phone. We haven't had a chance to meet. So it's to establish a personal relationship.

I will have met most of the leaders at APEC. I will have not met Jiang Zemin. I look forward to meeting him, so he can see that I'm a sincere person when I say that I want to have good relations, that I understand there will be moments where we agree and moments where we disagree, but we'll work to have good relations.

As you recall, we had a start that tested our relationship, and that was over the EP-3 incident. Yet, we were very calm. Both sides were calm; both sides gathered the facts; and both sides worked to resolve an incident which could have been a difficult incident. But it wasn't. It turned out to be a much more peaceful resolution than a lot of people in the world thought was possible.

It was very interesting to get reactions from other world leaders during that incident, because they didn't know me. They weren't sure how we'd react, and they weren't sure how the chemistry would be between our two governments. And I think we showed the world that we can work things together. And that's going to be very important.

Trade is going to be very important for us to discuss, too. I think it's going to be very important for us to talk about proliferation. I think it's going to be very important for us to talk about human rights. There's a wide range of issues that we can discuss. But I know we'll discuss them in the spirit of a desire to have good, close relations. China is a very important country, and I understand how important it is.

Q. Mr. President, I have three questions.

The President. Okay. Each person gets three questions, so you can think of another one.

Japan's Role in the War on Terrorism

Q. Beyond the economic and financial contribution, what kind of role do you think Japan can play in fighting the war against terrorists?

The President. Well, first of all, as you know, the Prime Minister has talked about possibly participating with some defense forces, not combat forces but defense forces. We're more than open-minded to talk about a way for Japan to contribute.

But I want to remind you that you should not discount the importance of disrupting the financial networks of the terrorists. If we starve them of money, that's just as effective as conventional armament. And also we need to share intelligence; all three countries need to share intelligence back and forth. If we hear or see there is a threat on Japan or China or South Korea, we will share that information so that each of us can protect our own homeland. It's a different kind of war we're fighting.

So the contributions can be varied and different. And each nation represented here will contribute in different ways. And I recognize that, and we're not going to ask nations to contribute in ways that their people won't understand or accept. So there are going to be some nations that will contribute in this area and won't be able to help here. But that's okay, just so long as we're all focused on the goal of ridding the world of terrorism. And we must make that decision now.

And that's what I look forward to telling all the three world leaders. I want them to see how determined I am to succeed, and that I'm patient and resolved and will not yield until we send a clear signal to terrorists: There will be a consequence, and if you harbor a terrorist as a nation, you will be held accountable. And that's just as important, and I think all three leaders understand that. I know the Prime Minister of Japan does.

Japan and the International Economy

Q. The second question, Mr. President, what would you like Japan to do for revitalizing the world economy after the terrorist attacks?

The President. Well, I think what Japan needs to do is what Prime Minister Koizumi campaigned on, and that is to push for significant economic reform, significant restructuring to work on bad loans and bad assets, to get them off the books, so to speak.

I felt like the Prime Minister and I, in our discussions about the internal situation in Japan, understood each other well. And I have always urged him at every conversation to be as bold and as strong as he can, because it's very important for the world that the Japanese economy be strong and recover.

Now, we have to do some things in our own country. We have been severely affected by the economic—by the attacks, and therefore, we need an economic revitalization plan. And we've taken some steps. We've spent money to help New York recover. We've spent money, obviously, to help our defenses. We've spent money to help our airline industry, which has been badly affected. I think we need to cut taxes again. We cut taxes in the summer. I want to cut taxes again to offset the spending to create a stimulus.

Finally, however—and this is going to be an important part of the meeting—we must confirm our mutual desire to have the world trade more freely. It is important for all our economies that we trade freely, that markets be open. Listen, I understand there are some issues involved with opening markets, but we've got to work toward an ideal of more open markets.

Last question.

Japan and the Future of Afghanistan

Q. The third question, Mr. President, what kind of a contribution do you expect Japan to make to stabilizing future government problem in Afghanistan?

The President. Well, let me say that the last time the Prime Minister was here, he told me that the Japanese had dedicated $40 million to relief in Afghanistan. And I praised him here, in front of the American press corps, for that generous contribution.

I think that goes to show that Prime Minister Koizumi understands there is an international role for a stable Afghanistan. I understand that we need to worry about what Afghanistan looks like and that we must restore a sense of stability in that country and take care of the poor people that have been victimized by the Taliban regime.

On the other hand, I want to assure everybody my focus is on achieving the objective, which is bringing the Al Qaida organization hiding in Afghanistan to justice and holding the Government that harbors them accountable as well.

But I appreciate Japan's role. I appreciate the Prime Minister's understanding of the need not only to provide short-term relief, like we are as well, but also to be a part of a longer term solution in Afghanistan. He understands that, and for that, I'm grateful.

Last question for here, and then you get three. You were probably wondering whether I knew you were even sitting there, but I knew.

China-U.S. Relations

Q. My last question. The Chinese readers of my paper most want to know, what's your idea for the development in the bilateral relationship between China and the U.S.A.?

The President. Well, first, the most important thing about a relationship between our two nations is for the two leaders to get to know each other as people, as individuals. I want to be able to hear from your leader, the leader of China, what's on his mind. I'll be able to tell more about this leader when I see him and hear him, and he'll be able to tell more from me, about me, by listening to me.

Secondly, I think it's very important for us to continue to foster good trading relations. Trade is mutually beneficial to our nations. I argued strongly during the campaign and since I've been President that China should ascend to WTO——

Q. Thank you.

The President. ——because that is a very important part of encouraging China to have market-oriented growth. But at the same time, it's in our nations' interests. I was most pleased with the progress we've made about China accepting U.S. farm products as part of the WTO process. It was a very important breakthrough. I think it's going to be very important for us to discuss areas not only where we agree but areas where we don't agree.

But one place where we do agree—and it's important for your readers to know— is I support a "one China" policy. And I also expect there to be a peaceful reconciliation of the differences. And I look forward to reaffirming that with Jiang Zemin.

We need to talk about a variety of issues, which we will. And I'm confident we can have a very constructive relationship. It starts with the desire to have a constructive relationship, and my desire is to have a constructive relationship.

Korean Peninsula Security

Q. As the war on the terrorism goes on, one of the utmost important issue for the Korean people should be the security of Korean Peninsula.

The President. Yes.

Q. If the war prolongs, as you have expected, 1 or 2 years, and North Korea sometime in the future change their reconciliatory stance and become hostile again and if there occurs some kind of conflict in the Korean Peninsula, how would you respond to that?

The President. We will fulfill our obligations to the South Korean people and to our pact with South Korea. North Korea should not in any way, shape, or form think that because we happen to be engaged in Afghanistan, we will not be prepared and ready to fulfill our end of our agreement with the South Korean Government. They should not use this as an opportunity to threaten our close friend and ally South Korea.

Not only will we have troops there and have them there, we will be prepared to defend and stand side by side with our long-time friend the South Korean people.

Chairman Kim Chong-il of North Korea

Q. Thank you. And the second question is, South Korea-North Korea talks have been stalled after the inauguration of your administration, virtually. And North Korean leader Kim Chong-il has not returned his visit, which he has agreed last year. And earlier this month, North Korea has canceled the plan, agreed plan to exchange to separate families. And things are a little bit changing right now. About all these, there are some Korean people blame it, in part, to your administration North Korean policy. Do you have any comment on that? And I wonder if you have any message concerning about Kim Chong-il?

The President. I've got a message to Kim Chong-il: Fulfill your end of the bargain. You said you would meet. Meet.

No one in the United States is stopping him from doing this. This is a decision he made. He can blame it on who he wants, but he ought to fulfill his end of the agreement.

And secondly, I want to remind your readers that we offered to meet with Kim Chong-il. In June of this year we said, "At a time of your choosing, we'll be glad to send a representative to meet with you to discuss a variety of issues." And yet, he chooses not to meet with us, either. He won't meet with you; he won't meet with us, which kind of leads me to believe that perhaps he doesn't want to meet. So he can blame it on who he wants, but it's up to him to make that decision.

Secondly, I think that he needs to earn the trust of the world. I think he needs to take pressure off of South Korea and off of DMZ. I think he needs to say— send a signal, clearest message, that he's for peace, not for war. And he can do that very easily by removing conventional forces back. That's very simple to do. I know he needs to stop spreading weapons of mass destruction around the world. And I look forward to—my Government looks forward to explaining that to him, in no uncertain terms.

In the meantime, we have great sympathy for the North Korean people. Anywhere there is starvation, Americans, like other nations, worry about what causes the starvation. How can people starve in a world where there is food? So my heart breaks when I hear the stories of North Korean families not being able to feed their children—children are children, regardless of who their leaders are—and I'm sad about that.

I want to applaud Kim Dae-jung for his leadership in instituting the Sunshine Policy. As I said right here in the Oval Office, I support the Sunshine Policy. I think it makes sense. I think the more interchange there is, the more likely it is there will be peace. And after all, we're for peace.

By the way, I fully understand how this issue affects the other nations of the Far East as well. And so we want to have discussions with Kim Chong-il. We've made the offer to have discussions with Kim Chong-il. But he refuses to talk. And I'm always—which makes me wonder, why? Why would he not want to talk? What is it about this man who refuses to—not only to talk with us but to fulfill an agreement he made with your Government?

U.S. Military Presence on the Korean Peninsula/Reunification

Q. Actually, I'd like to have two questions, if you allow me, Mr. President.

The President. Okay.

Q. I'd like to hear your opinion on the reunification of Korean Peninsula. And what kind of role the United States can do after the reunification? And the status of the American military forces?

The President. Sure. Let me start with that. The last one's easy. We'll have a military presence on the Peninsula. We think it's important for providing stability, not only on the Korean Peninsula but throughout that part of the Far East, and I think most governments recognize that. And so we'll keep a presence there, and I don't have any intention of diminishing our presence. As a matter of fact, I think the United States plays a very unique role of providing assurance and providing stability, and we'll continue that role.

Secondly, our role—what do I think about the chances for reunification? You know, it's hard for me to tell. I would say that I am—I believe that anything is possible. However, if a leader refuses to meet to discuss reunification, it's going to be hard to achieve. It takes two parties, two willing parties, who make the commitment to proceed forward.

I know the leader of South Korea has made that commitment. It's easy to see when you talk to him. He's got this firm, fervent belief that better relations with North Korea leading to talks about different types of reunifications, starting with families, is very important. I mean, you can— there's no question in his mind and no question in my mind, having talked to him, about his strong belief. But I fully recognize it takes two leaders to share the same vision and the same hopes. And it's apparent that Kim Chong-il doesn't share the same vision; otherwise, talks would be ongoing.

You see, I believe in the art of the possible. I believe if leaders want something to happen and they're willing to work to make it happen, it can happen. But it requires will and drive and perseverance and persistence. And I don't see that from one part of the—one side of the equation. I do see it from Kim Dae-jung, however.

Thirdly, about our role. Well, first of all, we believe that any kind of discussions and talks between South Korea and North Korea will make the Peninsula more peaceful. Dialog is important, particularly the human-to-human exchange, that sometimes people are ahead of their governments— you know, the will of the people gets out ahead of a government, and that in itself— and I think most people are peaceful people. I think most people want there to be peace.

The timetable of such a reunification is obviously up in air, since there's no discussions. But we'd be willing to help. We want to help our friend. If this is what our friend and ally South Korea thinks is important, we will help. We will help do so.

Listen, I am interested in—again, I repeat something I said before: I want our Government to help starving people. On the other hand, I don't want to send aid to a government that doesn't help its people. It's one thing to help the people; it's another thing to send the aid, and then the government doesn't help the people.

And so I must tell you that I've been disappointed in Kim Chong-il not rising to the occasion, being so suspicious, so secretive. I believe he must lead his nation into the modern era, starting with making sure his people are fed and well treated, and working with his neighbor. He ought to assume the responsibility of a good leader and do that.

But there's time, and we'll see. I look forward to talking to Kim Dae-jung this issue. I know he'll bring it up. It's on his mind. He's a believer, as we say. He's passionate about the subject. And I appreciate that passion very much. I think—I like passionate people. I like people who believe in a cause and are willing to lead.

And I'm looking—as you can tell, this is a part of the world that I've thought a lot about. It's a very important part of the world. It's significant because not only of the histories and traditions, but the future is so strong in all three countries present here. We've got great futures. And we want to be friends, and we want to be a part of the futures, working together. And I'm confident we can.

Q. Because of the belief President Kim Dae-jung has, a politically difficult time right now.

The President. Let me tell you, in life, you've just got to do what you think is right. That's what a leader does. Leaders take a position not because of some poll or focus group; they should take a position on what they think is right and suffer the consequences. That's what a good leader does.

Abraham Lincoln is on the wall here. He took a position in what he thought was right and stuck by it. He was severely criticized. They made fun of him, the press did. They treated him—they accused him of not being able to put sentences together sometimes. Sounds familiar. [Laughter] But he turned out to be a great President, because he did what he thought was right.

Winston Churchill, he did what he thought was right. George Washington— you notice I don't have people in this office who tried to figure out what was right. You either know what you think is right or not what you think is right. And so I admire a person for taking a stand. Sometimes the people like it, and sometimes they don't. But at least by taking a stand you believe in, you'll be able to live with yourself, which ultimately, to me, that's what's most important for a leader, to be able to be comfortable about who you see in the mirror when you wake up in the morning.

Look, I understand the political consequences of making tough decisions. You mark my words, people are going to get tired of the war on terrorism. And by the way, it may take more than 2 years. There's a variety of theaters. So long as anybody's terrorizing established governments, there needs to be a war. And so I've asked— you said 1 or 2 years. I envision something taking longer than that.

Now, maybe the Afghan theater will be shorter than that or that length. Who knows? But we're patient. But some people are going to start to say, "We're tired, but President Bush keeps going on." And when that happens, I want you to know, I will be doing it because I think it's the right thing to do. That's what I'm supposed to do.

So that's a long answer to a very important question, the most fundamental question of all.

Thank you all for coming. I'm looking forward to my trip.

NOTE: The interview was taped at 1:47 p.m. in the Oval Office at the White House, and the transcript was released by the Office of the Press Secretary on October 17. In his remarks, the President referred to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan and President Kim Dae-jung of South Korea. The following journalists participated: Junichi Hayakawa, Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan; Yujun Ren, People's Daily, China; and Ki-sop Shin, Yonhap, South Korea. A tape was not available for verification of the content of this interview.

George W. Bush, Interview With Asian Editors Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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