Press Briefing by Assistant Secretary Winston Lord
10:30 A.M. EDT
MR. CLARKE: We will now have an ON-THE-RECORD briefing on conditions for MFN for China. It is NOT FOR SOUND AND CAMERA. Our briefer is Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Winston Lord.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LORD: Thank you. Let me make some introductory comments and I'll be glad to take your questions.
The President's decision today represents a firm and a balanced and an effective policy. I think it reflects both American values and interests, both China's importance and the repressive nature of the Chinese government. It also represents the fulfillment of a presidential commitment during the campaign. As the President said in his statement today -- and I urge you to read the full text of his remarks -- this is an American policy with the Executive and Congressional branches unified for the first time in four years, for the first time since the Tiananmen Square massacre.
It represents very close consultations in cooperation with a broad spectrum of views in the Congress, in both the Senate and the House, ranging from some who would have preferred no conditions to some who wanted even tougher sanctions and conditions.
Let me say that in recent months in both Beijing and Washington we have sought to make maximum progress with the Chinese in quiet negotiations in such areas as human rights, trade and nonproliferation. This has involved Secretary Christopher here in Washington with both the former and present Chinese Ambassador. It's involved Under Secretary Tarnoff, myself. It's involved our Ambassador in Beijing. And, of course, I visited Beijing a couple of weeks ago.
Now, the results of these negotiations with the Chinese have not been dramatic, but they have not been inconsequential. And in recent months we've seen the release of approximately 10 prominent political dissidents as well as several religious figures. China has signed the Chemical Warfare Convention. It has sent various purchasing missions here to buy American products probably totalling over $2 billion. It has taken some steps to open its market. It is admitting Peace Corps volunteers for the first time. It has helped with identifying U.S. airmen lost during the Vietnam War. It has also been helpful in some global and regional conflicts, especially Korea as well as Cambodia.
However, Beijing has not moved sufficiently on our core concerns. Hundreds, probably thousands of prisoners of conscience remain in detention. Religious freedom is continuing to be circumscribed as some questionable arms transfers, especially possibly M-11s to Pakistan. The Chinese have been dragging their feet on some of our trade agreements. There is continued pressure and repression in Tibet, et cetera.
Now, today's decision by the President is an unprecedented action. It's the first time that any administration has conditioned MFN trade on China. We believe it's a very strong signal. And, thanks to the credibility of the President on human rights and other areas, I think it's fair to say that leading members of Congress who have favored legislation in the past are willing to see the President implement this policy through an Executive Order. We believe the conditions set out in the Executive Order are credible and meaningful, but that they're also achievable during the course of the next year.
They represent fulfillment of U.S. actual laws as well as some universal norms of human rights. The objective is to use MFN in an effort to make progress with the Chinese on these key issues and particularly in human rights where we have little other leverage except diplomatic pressures. We don't lose, or revoke MFN, if at all possible. It would hurt some of the wrong people and processes in China. If you lose that, it would hurt Hong Kong as Governor Patten made amply clear in his recent visit, in Taiwan and other investors in China, and it would hurt many American business interests.
With respect to nonproliferation and trade issues, we have, and we will continue to use very vigorously, other instruments at our disposal: legislation, executive action, as well as diplomacy. Whether it's legislation on missile sanctions or COCOM or -- negotiations on trade or GATT accession, as well as our continuing diplomatic efforts.
We have proposed to the Chinese a series of ways to get engaged, whether it's working groups or trips back and forth, to work on all these issues during the coming years. I also should point out in the trade and nonproliferation areas, we're not raising new demands with the Chinese, we're basically asking them to live up to agreements they've already signed or adhered to.
This is an attempt to begin to move the Most Favored Nation debate from the center of our policy and construct a broader China policy. But this will require substantial movement by the Chinese in our areas of concern. The President is very serious about these issues and is willing to use MFN to make real progress.
If China doesn't act the Congress and the President will. We're prepared to restore momentum in U.S.-Chinese relations. We're prepared to listen to Chinese concerns and try to make progress, but this will take much more serious efforts by China in order to, in the President's words, "meet basic international standards in its treatment of its people, its sales of dangerous arms and its foreign trade."
So, with those introductory explanatory remarks, let me go to your questions.
Q: The Executive Order seems to leave an awful lot of discretion up to the President about whether these conditions have been met next year. And this sounds a lot like President Bush's argument for not wanting to sign bills opposing conditions on China. What's the real difference here, you know, 12 months before the deadline?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LORD: No, no, it's a very clear departure from President Bush's policy. For the first time, as I said, there are clear conditions, very firm ones, but we believe realizable, reasonable ones, in the areas of human rights as well as a strong determination to pursue trade and nonproliferation through other instruments, and that's fully covered in the President's report, which I urge you to read which transmits the Executive Order.
This is a very clear departure, a much firmer policy than during the Bush administration as evidenced by the solid congressional support including Senator Mitchell and Congresswoman Pelosi who stood with the President and praised his efforts today. So, there's a very clear distinction from previous policy.
Q: There actually are no conditions on China in here. The only conditions are listed in Section I which are on the Secretary of State, going into his recommendations. Isn't that correct?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LORD: No, no. The conditions are on China. It's the Secretary of State who has to report to the President next year how well China has done to meet these conditions.
Q: But this Executive Order does not make renewal thereafter subject to conditions on China. It makes -- subject to renewal after -- based on what the Secretary of State determines.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LORD: No.
Q: I'm reading it. Show me where the conditions are. They're not here.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LORD: The conditions are spelled exactly in the Section I of the Executive Order. It says the Secretary of State will tell the President to his best judgment whether China has met these conditions. The President will then determine whether to extend MFN again.
Q: If all this goes into a recommendation by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of State isn't the one who signs the Executive Order, the President is.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LORD: The President will get the report from the Secretary of State and based on that, listening to his Secretary of State, will then decide whether in his judgment, the President's judgment, with the advice of the Secretary of State but it's the President's decision whether to recommend extension of MFN in 1994 for another year.
So, it's very clear. The conditions are on the Chinese. It's only that he's looking to the Secretary of State in the first instance to give him a reading about how much progress has been made.
Q: There's nothing in this order that binds the President to follow these conditions. Isn't that correct?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LORD: He's bound by his judgment, and that of the Secretary of State of whether they've met these conditions, certainly --
Q: He's bound by his judgment, but he's not bound by the conditions, or by the recommendations of the Secretary --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LORD: Look, if the Chinese don't make a serious effort and meet these conditions, the President will certainly, together with the Congress, whom he would consult, be prepared to revoke MFN; that's very clear.
Q: The Chinese have said that they will not accept any conditions. Was there anything in your meetings with them that gave you a different impression? Can you tell us --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LORD: Well, I think officially, the Chinese -- we'll have to see their reaction. I would leave their reaction, frankly, to Beijing or to their embassy here. So I don't want to preempt their reaction.
Before today, they have indicated they don't wish conditions. Again, we'll see what their reaction is. And I'd rather have them speak to this.
Q: You met with them presumably to brief them on what was going to happen. Can you just give us a sense of how --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LORD: Well, when I met with them, we were still trying to make progress in the home stretch. We made a serious effort, the President asked me to go to Beijing, one last effort to make as much progress as possible before we sat down with the Congress in the final stages to come up with a decision.
I told them, frankly, that we were not making enough progress, and therefore I foreshadowed my judgment, but I wasn't about to preempt either the President or the Congress; I couldn't tell them what exactly was going to happen. But my best judgment was that there would be conditions attached, because we weren't making significant progress.
Their response at the time is that they don't like conditions; that's the response one would expect. But in terms of their future response, why don't we wait to hear from them.
Q: Just to follow up on that. Was there, in addition to these talks about what they would or wouldn't do on specific issues, were there talks with them about the language of the Executive Order?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LORD: No. These are up to the President in consultation with the Congress. Now, obviously, the general areas of concern -- human rights, trade, nonproliferation -- we've been pressing them on for many months now, as I outlined. But, no, the language is certainly up to us.
Q: Why not -- for most of the order, the Chinese would be required to make progress toward certain goals. Why not impose conditions such as releasing, substantially, all of the prisoners put away for Tiananmen Square, or why not impose conditions that says that if China breaks the missile control technology regime, then MFN will be revoked?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LORD: Well, first, the specific conditions are tied to human rights. On missiles and other nonproliferation objectives and trade, we're going to pursue them very seriously, very vigorously, but through other instruments. And there are heavy penalties, for example, in nonproliferation that would hit the Chinese outside of MFN if we determine that they are breaking agreements.
With respect to the other conditions, you have essentially the first two on freedom of immigration and prison labor, those are firm U.S. laws that have to be fully fulfilled. The other several after that, other areas of human rights we consider extremely important, and we'll have to judge whether we feel that China has made overall significant progress with respect to those.
Q: Why use that standard instead of insisting, as the United States has in the past that these prisoners should be released?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LORD: Well, we are insisting they should be released. What we're trying to do is strike a balance between firm, credible goals, but ones we think the Chinese should, in good conscience, be able to achieve in the course of the next year. Our effort here is to make as much progress as possible. We will be very firm in our judgments, but we're also not trying to set up a series of totally impossible conditions across the board, however desirable, that we think can't be met in one year. So we try to strike a balance here.
Q: What kind of sanctions follow on violation of the NPT undertakings?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LORD: It depends which particular items are violated. Now, for example --
Q: How about the M-11?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LORD: The M-11, if there was airtight, conclusive evidence that M-11s had been transferred, then the Helms Amendment would kick into action. I don't want to mislead you with position; I may not have it at my fingertips. But large amounts of Chinese trade in the particular areas surrounding -- and the industries surrounding that kind of shipment would be affected. It would be a significant penalty. And we would certainly invoke it if we determined definitely that an illegal transfer had taken place.
Q: How consistent is this policy with the President's declarations during the campaign?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LORD: It's entirely consistent, and I think it's evidenced by the fact, for example, that Senator Mitchell and Congresswoman Pelosi enthusiastically endorsed this approach and stood up with the President at his event this morning.
Q: The President has had meetings on economic and other issues with groups of U.S. businesspeople. To what extent have they pressed Most Favored Nation on him, and to what extent was that influential?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LORD: Well, the business community has been very active, as it has every right to, pressing upon the President, the Congress and the Executive Branch, generally, their views. I'd say most of the business community would prefer no conditions at all for a variety of reasons, obviously all of them interested in the very fast-growing Chinese market, although I would point out we have a huge deficit with China.
Some in the business community are critical of China and wish to press some of these issues, but they prefer to use other instruments in this legislation. Of course, the business interests were taken into account, as were those of human rights groups, as were those of other interested groups, in reaching a decision. Above all, however, the President was determined to reflect his policy approach and his campaign commitments.
I might add, with respect to the business community, this is a personal comment, but I think it would be very helpful, indeed, that the business community lobbied the Chinese government made progress in these areas as effectively as they're lobbying the Congress and the President --efforts in these areas as effectively as their lobbying the Congress and the President. I think it would help American policy to show unity here, to have our business leaders who have every right to express their views to the American government if they would take actions and express their view to the Chinese on human rights concerns, on unfair trade practices and on nonproliferation. I think we can make more significant progress.
Q: How seriously do you take the Chinese threat? Presumably they all say that they will not agree to these conditions and they will retaliate. Do you take that seriously that if everything is indeed cut next year, that they will retaliate in kind?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LORD: Well, I'll let the Chinese speak for themselves. We're talking about a year from now. Let's hope and let's see whether we can make major progress in these areas over the coming year so that that's an entirely hypothetical question.
Q: Ambassador, is China in compliance with any of these conditions now? In other words, if this were 1994, what would you recommend?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LORD: Well, I don't want to get into where I would be in 1994, but obviously we wouldn't have these down here if we thought they were in full compliance. So we see a need for progress in all these areas.
Q: You mentioned the support of Senator Mitchell and Congresswoman Pelosi. Given the actual political climate, what do you expect the Republicans -- do you think you'll have bipartisan support for --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LORD: I would hope so and I would think so. There are some in Congress, Democrats as well as Republicans, who would like to revoke MFN immediately. There are some who would like even tougher conditions, and we think these are pretty firm. But even tougher concerns being placed here. There are some who don't want any conditions at all on MFN, some who are very tough on China, but don't feel that this is the right instrument. So there's a tremendous panoply of views on this, and I think it's a credit to the President's credibility, generally, and particularly on this issue that he's assembled a coalition of support. So I'm confident that this will achieve wide support that may well be legislation to revoke the moves to try to make it unconditional. But I think there's a center of gravity here, a sense coalescing around the President that this is a firm policy, it's realistic, it can be effective, it can make progress on these areas, using MFN as leverage, but also in a way that's realistic, so that a year from now we'll make enough progress so we won't actually lose MFN, which would also have damaging effects.
Q: Is Secretary Christopher going to visit Beijing this summer? And, more generally, you said you want to build on this relationship now. Where do you go from here?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LORD: Well, there are no plans for him to visit Beijing this summer. I would envisage working group and other level trips in both directions to work on all these problems and try to make progress over the coming year.
Q: Is China now complying with the memorandum of understanding on prison labor, and is it complying with the missile control technology regime? And if there is no determination, is it wise to go ahead and extend MFN without making that determination?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LORD: Well, on prison labor, there's been an improved compliance. We have heard just recently from Harry Woo and others new evidence that we're serious looking into, so we will continue to monitor this very closely.
To be more specific, what happens under the MOU is that we bring to the Chinese attention information which leads us to believe that certain entities are producing for export goods made by prison labor.
We presented them information on 16 cases of alleged use of prison labor. The Chinese have reported back on all 16 cases admitting that four of the facilities involved have used prison labor for export production in the past. The Chinese maintain that the factories either have ceased exporting or have removed prisoners from the production line. U.S. officials have visited three prisons and have standing requests to visit five others, including a revisit to one facility.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Customs has aggressively expanded its enforcement and so on. There are other details -- this is all in the President's report.
Q: So, they are in compliance?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LORD: I'm not prepared to say they're fully in compliance. I'm giving you the record so far. There's been some improvement in compliance in recent months under our pressure but there is new evidence that has been brought to our attention and so on. So, this is why this is in here as one of the conditions for the extension of MFN.
Q: The President's calling for significant progress in human rights. Could you give us an example of what kind of a concrete marker he might have in mind?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LORD: I don't want to get any more specific than what we have here. I mean these are fairly specific and we'll have to make a judgment about a year from now. But the areas are clear in the Executive Order. I might also add that in the general report there are other areas that are mentioned that we consider important as well and will be taken into account.
Q: Does the administration support the legislation that Mitchell and Pelosi introduced that would take some of these conditions and make them a matter of law?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LORD: Well, the administration's decision, obviously, is to go for the Executive Order along the lines as described today. And that has secured the support of Senator Mitchell and Congresswoman Pelosi. I think it's fair to say that they have concluded and others in the Congress have concluded that this President has credibility in pursuing these issues vigorously. And, therefore, they are willing to support an Executive Order whereas they may not have been in previous administration.
Q: What's the time frame on this? Does Congress get a chance to block this or is it one House or two Houses --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LORD: My understanding of the legal situation is that the President had to make this determination under Jackson-Vanik by June 3rd. On the now issue of whether there's enough freedom of emigration or whether this would promote greater freedom of emigration to extend it for another year. That's true of all communist regimes getting MFN.
I believe that Congress has to act within a certain period of time to change that. But if there's no action this is the way we'll go forward. Now, there may be some legislation introduced suggesting legislative sanctions and so on but we believe that this has very broad support, this approach.
Q: July 3rd is when it begins, right?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LORD: That's right. He has to submit this a month before the next year of MFN treatment is underway.
Q: Just broadly speaking, in what direction do you see U.S. policy or the relationship between U.S. and China moving in now, is the era of recriminations from June 4th essentially over with?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LORD: June 4th is not over with. Americans have not forgotten Tiananmen Square. There's been some progress in certain areas. We recognize China's an important country. The President has said continually we do not wish to isolate China. We have made progress and I noted some of these in recent months but it's clearly not enough. And that's why in this unprecedented act the President is using an Executive Order to condition MFN.
So, we have a mixed picture with China. Some areas of cooperation and progress, other areas of very serious concern especially in the human rights area as well as nonproliferation and trade.
Q: Are we the number one market for Chinese products?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LORD: I don't know whether we're number one or not but we take 20 or 25 percent, so, we're clearly one of their leading markets. Japan's important and it depends how you treat Hong Kong, of course.
Q: Has the United States protested the treatment of the demonstrators in Tibet?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LORD: Absolutely. We continually have done it.
Q: In the last day or two?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LORD: We have gone in and asked for explanations and expressed our concerns just in the last few days in the last demonstration.
Q: Will Mitchell-Pelosi be withdrawn?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LORD: You would have to ask them that but I would assume in their support of the President today and standing up for them and making statements supporting this approach, I don't know whether they technically will withdraw it but I'm confident, obviously, that they're going to support the President's Executive Order.
Q: Mr. Secretary, did you inform the Chinese about what you were going to do?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LORD: We have told them, yes.
Q: What was their response?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LORD: Well, I think we should hear from them on that?
THE PRESS: Thank you.?
END11:00 A.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Assistant Secretary Winston Lord Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269174