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China: Clinton Answers Human Rights Critics

  • Sonia Winter



Washington, 12 June 1998 (RFE/RL) -- President Bill Clinton says it is better to engage China -- not isolate it -- to advance U.S. interests and democratic values.

In a speech in Washington Thursday, he urged China's integration into the global economy and international community, saying "the more we bring China into the world, the more the world will bring freedom to China."

Clinton's speech to the National Geographic Society was a carefully considered, vigorous defense of U.S. policy towards China, made in response to strong domestic criticism of his planned trip to Beijing later this month.

He rejected the idea of canceling the trip because of China's poor human rights record, stressing that trying to isolate this important power would be a mistake and would not make the world safer or more democratic.

As Clinton put it "seeking to isolate China will not free one more political dissident, will not open one more church to those who wish to worship, will do nothing to encourage China to live by the laws it has written. Instead, it will limit our ability to advance human rights and religious and political freedom."

Summarizing America's approach in a description that could also apply to U.S. relations with Central Asian and other authoritarian governments, Clinton said U.S. policy is based on principle and pragmatism, expanding areas of cooperation and dealing forthrightly with differences.

Clinton will be the first American president to visit China since the 1989 massacre of pro-democracy students on Tiananmen Square. The trip is less than two weeks away. scheduled from June 25 to July 3, including a brief stop in Hong Kong.

Dozens of human rights groups, exiled Chinese dissidents and members of the U.S. Congress have protested that Clinton's visit will give legitimacy to a repressive, undemocratic regime.

They object especially to Clinton's willingness to attend a formal welcoming ceremony on Tiananmen Square where so much blood flowed for freedom.

But Clinton said Thursday that principle should not be confused with protocol. He said he intends to honor China's traditional practice and will not make a symbolic point when he can make a real difference by talking directly to the Chinese leadership about human rights and religious freedom.

"Our message remains strong and constant," Clinton said: "Do not arrest people for their political beliefs. Release those who are in jail for that reason. Renounce coercive population control practices. Resume your dialogue with the Dalai Lama (exiled spiritual leader of Tibet). Allow people to worship when, where and how they choose."

Clinton said that in addition to human rights, regional security in Asia will be an important item on the Beijing agenda.

He said he wants to work with Chinese President Jiang Zemin to pressure India and Pakistan into curbing their nuclear arms race.

Clinton said he will also continue to press for tighter controls on the export of Chinese missiles and missile technology. Some experts have said China's technology exports to Pakistan propelled neighboring India into a nuclear arms race.

But it is America's own advanced technology sales to China that are currently causing a major controversy in Washington. The U.S. Senate this week began a series of hearings to explore the impact of U.S. sales of space technology to China, which critics maintain helped Beijing develop its missile capability.

The sales were approved by the Clinton Administration between 1993 and 1996, largely because it was cheaper to boost American satellites into space on Chinese rockets, then to launch them from the U.S. or Europe.

Clinton said other issues he wants to discuss in Beijing include China's role in global affairs.

Clinton said he will ask for Beijing's increased cooperation in combating organized crime and drug trafficking and in preventing the spread of global pollution.

He said that early in the next century, China will produce more gases harmful to the environment than any other nation in the world.

"Every major body of water in China is polluted and drinking water is scarce in many areas," Clinton said, noting that this matters profoundly to other peoples "because what comes out of a haystack or goes into a river in China can do grievous harm beyond its borders."

Adding yet another to the list of reasons why it is imperative for the U.S. president to travel to China, Clinton said it will not be possible to deal with present and future global environmental problems without strong cooperation with China.
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