Press Briefing by National Security Advisor Tony Lake, Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights John Shattuck, Assistant Secretary of State for Asian and Pacific Affairs Winston Lord and Assistant to the President for Economic Policy Bob Rubin
The Briefing Room
5:52 P.M. EDT
MR. LAKE: Hi. I know you're all very close to deadlines, so we will be very brief. Let me simply begin by emphasizing five points. First, the President wanted to make this decision and present it based on an honest assessment of progress that had been made over the past year. We'll be handing out a fact sheet soon that analyzes that. I will not bore you then by repeating it.
Secondly, the executive order, we believe, did lead to progress over the past year, but that approach has taken us as far as it could take us and, therefore, third, the President wanted to adopt a new approach aimed at the same strategic objectives and to make a clear decision to delink and has done so.
Fourth, the President's decision is designed to lay the basis for a long-term, sustainable relationship with China through which we can pursue both our human rights interests and our security and economic interests as well.
And, fifth, we will be now pursuing a very active human rights policy with China in the context of that broader relationship that Win Lord will be describing to you. And John Shattuck, Assistant Secretary for Human Rights at the State Department, will be here to answer questions as well.
We'll have just a little more to say first.
MR. RUBIN: Thank you, Tony. Let me comment for a moment on the process, if I may. This was really a terrific example of how a process should work. The human rights, the foreign policy, the economic considerations were all brought together at the same time for the President so he could make a fully informed decision based on all of the variables being in front of him at the same time, the same place, with all of the relevant people at the table.
Tony and I worked very closely together; it's exactly what the President wanted from the beginning of the administration, the foreign policy and economic people working together in the White House to work on the White House component of this.
Senior administration people agreed from the beginning the revocation of MFN did not make sense, that democracy and human rights could be better served by engagement, integration into the global community of China. As time went on and we studied this more, we all agreed there has not, as Secretary Christopher has advised us -- there has not been overall significant progress. We agreed on delinkage as the best way to proceed in terms of human rights and other interests of the United States. And we agreed on a vigorous human rights agenda.
Let me add one more thing, if I may, and that is, this has been a very significant week with respect to Asian-United States policy in general. We cleared away the underbrush with respect to Japan. And we have begun, or we're about to begin, talks again with Japan on the various sectors under the framework agreement. Secondly, we've opened representative -- or have agreed to open representative offices in Vietnam. And thirdly, as you know, we now have a new policy with respect to China, forward-looking policy, as the President has just announced.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHATTUCK: Because of your deadlines and because the President and my colleagues have really covered the essential ground, I will speak at New York speed and be very brief here.
You have fact sheets -- you'll be getting more. So you have a sense of what progress has been made and what progress hasn't been made. The main point here is both the Secretary and the President, indeed, the entire administration was determined to make sure we gave an accurate, credible rendition of the situation in China. We believe we have done that. We have made some important progress, but there is some glaring deficiencies.
We've worked intensively. We've shown the spotlight on the human rights situation in China more than ever before. There has been progress, but China falls short, obviously, of international standards.
Now, where are we going in the future? There is a comprehensive approach outside of MFN that the President has outlined and you have further facts in front of you.
Very briefly, our rationale is the following: There are various ways to approach human rights and we have an initiative here on each of the sectors or elements that can do that. For example, we believe the business community can and should help. The President is going to sit down and talk with the business community and see whether we can develop a set of principles for operating in China. It would be voluntary and it would be cooperative. And so that is one element.
Second, obviously, in an age of information and technology, international broadcasting, bringing the facts and outside opinions and values to the people around the world including China, is another factor for liberalizing societies. Therefore, we will be stepping up our Voice of America programs, as well as launching the new Radio Free Asia.
Thirdly, it's obviously more effective whenever you can act multilaterally rather than bilaterally, and reflect the international community's consensus and not just the American views. And, therefore, we will put increased emphasis in working with other countries and an international fora.
And, finally, you have to look at the long-term and not just what is happening from week to week or day to day. And over the long-term, the development of nongovernmental organizations, a civil society, legal reform, parliamentary exchange we believe can have a major impact on Chinese society and human rights. So we'll be developing programs in that area as well. All of us will be accompanied, however, by an intensified, broad dialogue in the governmental channels which we have pursued, which we will continue to pursue, but as the President said, we believe in a more constructive and broader framework.
Q: When did the President actually make the decision to delink? And it sounds like you just threw out the rules of the game so that you could reach a different decision than what you started out pursuing.
MR. LAKE: The President reached the decision to delink -- which was, of course, not the whole of the decisions he made -- I would say, some weeks ago as he was thinking this through. That became -- Bob, would you disagree -- that became one of the basic points of agreement between the President and his senior advisors. That, as I said, was not the only decision he made, and there remained a series of decisions then about what the best human rights strategy would be to take advantage of the new relationship we could build then with the Chinese; what, if any, sanctions to impose that were not in the MFN context, et cetera.
On your second question, the point here is that we have a very important strategic objective here, and that is to build a relationship with China within which we can seriously pursue human rights as well as our other security and economic interests.
The importance of that goal makes it imperative that you proceed in as practical a fashion you can at every stage. Therefore, for example, last September when it became evident that we needed to broaden the range of our contacts with China in order to be able, effectively, to pursue the human rights provisions of the executive order, we did so. The President decided that we should meet with the Chinese, expand those contacts. That meant Secretary Christopher and others were meeting with them, and that meant that the President met with President Jiang last year.
That was a tactical shift towards the same goal. We are doing exactly the same thing here. The executive order took us as far as it could. We think now the next stage is to pursue the human rights dialogue that the executive order allowed us to establish.
This is the first time over the past year that we have really gotten ourselves into a serious human rights dialogue with China thanks to the executive order. We are convinced that this now is the best way to pursue that dialogue in an effective fashion.
Q: Have you communicated the decision to the Chinese government, and if so, have you had a response from them?
MR. LAKE: Yes. We did that today.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHATTUCK: We informed the Chinese government today about the decision. They basically listened, and indeed, we're having further discussions with them today, and also Ambassador Roy in China tomorrow. So we don't have any response at this point. We'll let them speak for themselves.
Q: Over the past year, administration officials repeatedly emphasized that what you were asking China to do on human rights was very minimum, that there were conditions which could be met. And yet, they weren't met. Was the position, both the rhetoric and the position taken during the 1972 campaign a mistake?
Q: The '92 --
Q: Excuse me, the 1992 campaign.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHATTUCK: -- 72 also. I remember very strong statements in 1972 when we -- (laughter.) There was immutable interest.
Q: Was the 1992 campaign position a mistake? Was the executive order a mistake?
MR. LAKE: You'll not be surprised to know that I would say, absolutely not. Again, the executive order and the approach in the executive order, which laid out serious conditions, allowed us to achieve, we believe, the progress as shown in the fact sheets that has been achieved this year. Wang Juntao, who I met with a couple of weeks ago would not, in our view, be free today were it not for the approach we have taken over the last year. There are many ways in which we have made progress.
The President, by making China an issue in 1992 and through the executive order, has allowed -- has created an impulse for the progress we have achieved -- and again let me emphasize this, because I think it's very important -- has allowed us to get into a serious dialogue on human rights with the Chinese that we have not had before. And we think that this approach now will allow us best to exploit that opening into further progress on human rights in the future.
And as the President said, let us a judge a year or two from now in the longer-term whether this approach is the right one or not. We believe that it is. This is the best tactic towards a very serious goal.
Q: Tony, does this mean that the United States is now delinking trade and human rights as a matter of foreign policy, or delinking that kind -- or MFN with human rights? Or does it simply mean that if the trading partner is big enough and powerful enough and politically influential enough that it will be delinked?
MR. LAKE: I think neither. On the first point -- for example, on the sanctions now on munitions, the Secretary of State will determine when he believes -- or, in the future, she perhaps -- believes that that sanction should be lifted with regard to the overall state of American relations with China, which includes human rights. This is not to say that we are delinking human rights and economics around the world.
The answer to both of your points is that since societies differ, since situations differ, and since human rights matter, we will pursue in each case what we believe is the most effective strategy to achieve the greatest-possible results. And we are convinced that this approach in China is the best one now to pursue.
Q: Presumably, you've had some input from people on the Hill and gotten just a feel for the reception that this decision will probably receive there. Do you think now -- I'm thinking now particularly of Senator Mitchell -- do you expect that Senator Mitchell might go one step better and introduce the bill that he's threatened to that would impose more expansive sanctions against China?
MR. LAKE: I think we'll have to see what Senator Mitchell and others now do. The President has spent a great amount of time today, and over the past weeks, speaking to members of Congress, across the whole spectrum of opinion. As the President said today, he has no doubt that some of our friends and some of those who believe very strongly in human rights as we do will disagree on what is the best tactic here. I think we all still agree on the goals; they will have to decide how they will proceed; those who may disagree with this tactic.
I would say all of the conversations that he had with members of Congress, however, were very positive and respectful, and with both the President and other administration officials speaking with members of Congress, and the members I think respecting each other's basic commitment to human rights.
Q: How important was the emergence of the Korean situation strategically dangerous in causing the President to put human rights perhaps on a lower stage of significance? The President seemed to hint at a changing strategic situation.
MR. LAKE: Certainly issues like Korea, issues that come up at the U.N., the Chinese vote and veto at the U.N. -- all of those things reinforce the importance of our having a positive, constructive relationship with China -- issues of nonproliferation. At the same time, that does not mean that he has one inch backed away from the importance he places on human rights.
In my view, throughout, the Chinese have made their decisions with regard to Korea based on China's interests. That has not been a function of our relationship with China. So the President did not pull back on human rights because of Korea or other issues. He does believe that the importance of our working with the Chinese on such issues reinforces the approach we are taking, which will also allow us to pursue the human rights dialogue. And we certainly hope that it will help us communicate all the more with the Chinese on Korea.
But I don't think it will affect their fundamental calculus about what they should do on Korea. They have a basic interest in a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. And they have a basic interest in seeing the Koreans choose the path of greater engagement with the international community, rather than going down the road of further isolation and possible sanctions.
Q: I'd like to ask Mr. Rubin, now that we have these new rules of the game, could you give us either a two-year or fiveyear economic projection of the level of trade we're going to have with China?
MR. RUBIN: The answer to the question basically is no, I don't know. But I do think there is -- there is a broadly-held view that sometime in the next two or three decades China is likely to be the largest economy in the world. Furthermore, as you know, it does not have a trade surplus with the rest of the world. It's not a mercantilist society in that sense. I think business in this country has been somewhat held back in terms of developing markets in China because of the uncertainty of the relationship. But I think that with the steps the President has taken today, there will be all the more incentive for developing markets in China. I think it will become an ever-larger and ever more important trading partner; but I don't have specific numbers. I don't think it's possible to make judgments at this point on that.
Q: But you see a fairly substantial increase in U.S. exports?
MR. RUBIN: If you speak to people who are involved in running large companies, and they talk about the various countries in the world and parts of the world in which they see great opportunity, China ranks number one or number two -- right at the top of anybody's list. The answer is, absolutely yes.
Having said that, let me repeat something that Tony said. There was no question -- and we all sat through every one of these meetings with the President -- that the President put enormous emphasis on what is the best way to accomplish human rights objectives. And it was this engagement and integration of China to the rest of the world that -- was his judgment, was the best way to accomplish our human rights objectives.
Q: Since Mr. Rubin was up there, maybe I'll -- you and Win. If any stiffer sanctions had been placed on China, do you think that the Boeing sale, potential Boeing sale would be jeopardized?
MR. RUBIN: Win, you're the expert on China. (Laughter.) You were an ambassador at one time.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LORD: China expert's an oxymoron. I don't want to speculate on what the Chinese may have done or might not have done. I don't think that's useful. China will act in its self-interest, whether it's Korea or whether it's a need for good aircraft. And, of course, American companies have the best aircraft in the world.
Q: Mr. President and you just both mentioned that you think the question is, what is the most effective way. Some have suggested that to influence China, to increase contact with Taiwan or Tibet probably would be very effective. I was wondering, is that under consideration as a future tool?
MR. LAKE: As you know, the President has met with the Dalai Lama now both last year and a few weeks ago, and I assume within the context in which we have met with him previously, we will continue our contacts with the Dalai Lama as well.
Let me emphasize that, because we have not spoken a great deal about it, we are very disappointed that the Chinese government did not yet agree to enter into a dialogue with the Dalai Lama in the wake of the Dalai Lama's statements that the question of independence would not be on the agenda for those talks. And we are, of course, very disturbed by many of the Chinese actions in Tibet with regard to the Tibetan culture and people. So that item will remain very much on our agenda.
Q: What about Taiwan? You didn't answer the question about Taiwan.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHATTUCK: We have a very strong, unofficial relationship with Taiwan. If anything, we believe it's become even stronger in this administration. We will pursue that. We've also had a policy toward Taiwan through several administrations, Republican and Democrat, that has essentially been very successful, on the one hand allowing us to improve our relations with Beijing, on the other hand, creating the context not only for strong friendship with Taiwan, but for a strengthening of their de facto security, amazing economic development and a movement toward human rights and democracy in Taiwan.
So we will not play games or alter our One China policy. We will continue to strengthen our unofficial ties with Taiwan. It's worked for many administrations. It's going to work under this administration.
Q: I'd like to follow up on your answer. I'd like to know the status of the Taiwan policy review. Now that the MFN issue is out of the way, are you going to move on with that policy review, which I understand, because of the MFN debate, has been sort of put on hold.
And also, I'd like to know personally -- it's being suggested that you might be made the fall guy because of this MFN issue because you're obviously the architect of that policy. It's been suggested you might leave government or -- (laughter.)
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHATTUCK: I'll take both of these. (Laughter.) Are you trying to make me leave? (Laughter.)
MR. LAKE: I think I should answer that.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHATTUCK: I have a funny answer. (Laughter.)
As far as I'm concerned, if the Knickerbockers and Rangers win, it's still a good spring no matter what happens. I'll let Tony answer both questions. But on the schedule, seriously, the NSC advisor and the NEC, if it's an economic issue, control the schedule. I will not accept the premise of your question that's been held up. We had an intensive review, and I'll let you know when we're going to have a high-level meeting on it.
MR. LAKE: I think it will be moving along in the next few weeks. I would prefer to say that it is proceeding apace rather than was on hold.
Let me say very, very strongly, first of all, that as a Red Sox fan with a sense of tragedy, I don't think it would be a good summer at all. But the policy of the executive order was last year put together jointly in the White House and with the State Department and other agencies.
It is wrong to say that any one individual is the architect of that policy. And again, I think it has been a good policy, and it has taken us as far as it has, and it has placed us in a good position now to pursue our human rights dialogue with the Chinese. And I absolutely have no expectation that a year from now, as we discuss the progress made under this new policy, that Win Lord will not be standing here with us.
Q: What does it mean when you said the President has not backed away on human rights? But what do you think the impact that this decision is going to be on his credibility overseas? The perception appears to be that any position he takes can be reversed with sufficient amount of pressure.
MR. LAKE: This policy was not -- this decision the President has reached was not made as a result of pressure.
Q: pressures from the interests here --
MR. LAKE: Absolutely. A lot of different people had a lot of different views. There were pressures -- if you want to use that word -- from a lot of different directions. And at a certain point, after you have consulted and heard different points of view, you simply sit down and decide what is right; what is the best approach to advance our interests, including our human rights. And that is precisely what the President did. And those of us who sat in every meeting with him will -- I think all of us -- tell you precisely that.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 6:16 P.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by National Security Advisor Tony Lake, Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights John Shattuck, Assistant Secretary of State for Asian and Pacific Affairs Winston Lord and Assistant to the President for Economic Policy Bob Rubin Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269509