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Remarks at the State Dinner Honoring Premier Zhu Rongji of China

April 08, 1999

May I have your attention, please. Can you hear? Ladies and gentlemen, Premier Zhu, Madam Lao, distinguished members of the Chinese delegation; to all of our guests here. And I would like to say a special word of welcome to two special Americans who made an extraordinary effort to be here tonight, Reverend Billy Graham and his wife, Ruth. We thank them for joining us. Thank you very much.

I would like to begin with two profound observations about China. The Chinese civilization has dazzled the world for thousands of years, and the Chinese do not have a tradition of long speeches before dinner. [Laughter] I think there must be a connection. [Laughter] Therefore, I will be brief.

It is not as brief in Chinese as in English. [Laughter]

Since 1784, Chinese and Americans have shared a lively dialog over how to achieve common cause in the countless pursuits that animate great nations. Thomas Jefferson took care to promote what he called "good dispositions" between the United States and China. Abraham Lincoln, in his first annual message to Congress, predicted our extensive trade with China. And of course, Franklin Roosevelt made it America's purpose to join with China in defense of freedom.

Our dialog and cooperation have now survived over two centuries and over considerable challenges. Today the Premier and I worked hard to renew both. We spoke to each other with candor and respect about our hopes for our people and our children's future. Sometimes speaking candidly is difficult.

Premier Zhu, I know your own life bears witness to this painful truth. But as you said this morning, only good friends tell each other what they really think. If you're right about that, you have turned out to be quite a good friend, indeed. [Laughter]

As you know, the American people are glad to see you and to return the hospitality you so generously extended to Hillary and me and our delegation last year. People are interested in you. After all, there aren't many leaders who understand both the intricacies of global finance and the intricacies of the Beijing Opera, who play the huqin, a kind of Chinese fiddle, and who voice both blunt political views and blunt musical opinions. For example, this morning's New York Times reported that you said Western opera makes you want to take a nap. [Laughter] I hope Yo Yo Ma understands the pressure on him tonight. [Laughter]

Premier, we have profound respect for your efforts to change China in sweeping ways, to build a 21st century China in which all Chinese have a chance to live full and prosperous lives. Of course, we have some differences over what is required to achieve that goal. And here in America we are still trying, ourselves, to form the "more perfect Union" of our Founders' dreams.

But we both believe tomorrow can be better than today, and we believe that our responsibility is to make it so before our brief journeys through life are over.

Last year on March 5th, the Chinese people celebrated the centennial of the birth of the first Premier of the People's Republic, Zhou Enlai. Americans still remember well the man who greeted President Nixon in 1972 and said to him in a toast: "The people, and the people alone, are the motive force in the making of world history. We are confident," he went on to say, "that the day will surely come when this common desire of our two peoples will be realized." Mr. Premier, as Zhou Enlai's successor, you have done much to bring this day closer.

Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in a toast to the Premier of China, Zhu Rongji, Madam Lao, and the people of China.

NOTE: The President spoke at 9:04 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Premier Zhu's wife, Lao An, and cellist Yo Yo Ma. The transcript released by the Office of the Press Secretary also included the remarks of Premier Zhu.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at the State Dinner Honoring Premier Zhu Rongji of China Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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