Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji: Differing on human rights
(CNN Prime Anchor Judy Woodruff interviewed Zhu on April 14, 1999. Here is a transcript of that interview:)
WOODRUFF: Premier Zhu, we thank you very much for joining us. You described yourself before this trip as an ordinary Chinese with a bad temper. And my question, my first question is, because there was no deal worked out with regard to the World Trade Organization, do you now have a bad temper?
ZHU (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Not only did I not lose my temper in the United States, but I have managed to keep a smiling face all along. And I do not feel that the talks about the WTO were unsuccessful. And President Clinton and I signed a joint statement in which the United States very clearly states that it strongly supports the accession of the Peoples Republic of China to the WTO during the year 1999. And I feel that our work is in the final stages now, so through our joint efforts we will be able to achieve an agreement.
WOODRUFF: By the end of this year, is there any doubt in your mind that there will be an agreement by the end of this year?
ZHU (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Well, based on what I've heard from some Congress people and also some other information and other reports that I've heard, they say that it may take another two or three months. But of course, I would much rather see it happen in another two weeks time. (LAUGHTER)
WOODRUFF: You, at one point in the last few days, I believe to members of Congress, described President Clinton as lacking courage, suggesting that he gave in to political concerns in the United States. Is that your view of the President? Is he weaker, politically, than you expected?
ZHU (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): I don't think we should look at this as a matter of courage. Rather, it's a judgment of opportunity. And this reflects his assessment of the domestic political situation in the U.S.. And I believe that he should make up his mind and come to some conclusion, based on the views of Congress and on popular opinion in the United States. And I do believe he will make the right decision. Well, based on my trip to the United States -- so far I've already been to five cities, including New York, and tomorrow we have still to go to Boston -- I've had an opportunity to come into contact with a broad array of people in the United States, including members of Congress and people from the business community and people from the financial community and members of the press. And I found that all the Americans we've met have been very friendly to China. And I think that this bodes well for a continuing progressive development in U.S.-China relations. And I fear that all the people we've met certainly would be supportive of China's accession to the WTO.
And at two o'clock this afternoon, President Clinton called me on the telephone and I told him about the sense that I had. And he told me that he had the same sense. So I don't think it will take a very long time for us to achieve an agreement.
WOODRUFF: President Clinton has talked about, in this regard, the importance of the United States and China remaining engaged. Do you agree that it's important for the two countries to remain engaged?
ZHU (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Well, what you call "engagement" we call a "friendly, cooperative relationship" between China and the United States. And I believe that a cooperative, friendly relationship between China and the United States is -- has been, the consistent policy of both your political parties, both the Republicans and the Democrats. The policy in the United States has been a bipartisan one, ever since President Nixon first opened up the door of U.S.-China relations. After all, he was a Republican, but then it was during the administration of President Carter, who was a Democrat, that the countries achieved normal diplomatic relations. And then subsequently, presidents Reagan and Bush, who were Republicans, continued to promote and foster the relationship. And then the Democratic President Clinton and our President Jiang together, announced that we were going to try to develop a constructive strategic partnership. Ľ
And so I think this chain of events shows, that this policy has been a bipartisan one. And now I feel that we are entering into a new phase which is entirely consistent with the interests, not only of our two countries, but with that of the world at large. And on the Chinese side, if you look back to Chairman Mao and Premier Zhu En-lai, and Mr. Deng Xiaoping, and now President Jiang Zemin, three successive generations of our leaders have also been supportive of this policy. So I think that what you call "engagement" is the right way to go. And the so-called "containment" or even what some people now call "soft containment" is not the right way.
WOODRUFF: This has been the view, at the same time, it has been acknowledged there will be differences over specific issues. One of those specific issues now is of course, human rights. President Clinton and others have spoken out. Just recently, your government has jailed political dissenters, people who wanted to form an opposition, political party. Do you think, Mr. Prime Minister, that once China is stronger economically, that it will be able to tolerate greater political dissent?
ZHU (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Oftentimes, in terms of human rights, while we may share the same nations, we will differ on how to go about implementing them, because countries, after all, have different circumstances. And I think China is constantly improving its human rights situation. But at the same time, we still have a long way to go and we must continue to improve in this area. And it's because of that that we're willing to listen to opinions from our foreign friends. But, at the same time, you have to bear in mind that we do have the burden of 2,000 years of traditional thinking, and this has affected the psychology of our people. And also bear in mind that the educational level of our population is not comparable to that in the United States.
Now recently, the National People's Congress of China has been revising our constitution and they are adding an amendment to our constitutional which calls for the country to be ruled according to law. And so, this shows that China wants to establish a complete legal and judicial system and to establish a country where there is rule of law. But on the other hand, this is something that is not easily achieved. We lack a large force of people with the right qualifications. Right now we have a great shortage of judges and lawyers. And it's rather a shame that you have so many lawyers in the United States and we have so few of them in China.
WOODRUFF: We'll send you some. (LAUGHTER)
ZHU (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): You see, we are training these people, but it takes time. You just can't train them overnight. So, when you're talking about concern over improving human rights, we are actually more anxious than you are in terms of wanting to see the situation improve. So of course economic reforms will also bring about political reforms, but you can see that we are already engaging in some political reforms, just as this constitutional amendment that I mentioned just now is steering us in the direction of ruling the country according to law.
And our constitution does stipulate that people have the freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. And so that does mean that there is consideration given to those rights. But, of course, this is under the overall context of not doing anything that would damage the public good or the public interest. But we do want to continue to move in this direction.
So we do acknowledge that we have deficiencies in the area of human rights. But at the same time we would also say that the people of China right now are enjoying a level of human rights that is unprecedented in our history.
WOODRUFF: In the United States -- many people in the United States recognize that. Certainly the United States government recognizes that. My question to you is your own experience-twice, you were sent into exile by previous regimes in China. Did your own experience, going through what you went through-you worked on, I believe, on a pig farm for a number of years. You worked at hard manual labor. Did that teach that really -- that China has nothing to fear from some political dissent?
ZHU (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Well, I don't think my own personal experience is worth discussing in any detail and I don't want to go into this digression here. But I think if you look you will find that our leaders all share a similar personal experience, namely that when they were young we were all fighting for democracy. We were fighting for freedom and fighting for the independence and liberation of our country. And it would be unimaginable that those of us who have spent a lifetime fighting to improve the rights of the Chinese people would want to go violate the rights of the Chinese people. So the question is, are we doing our work well? And we just have to work hard and do it better.
WOODRUFF: One of the reasons you said you were not looking forward to this trip, was the report that China had stolen secrets over the design over the most modern U.S. nuclear warhead and the neutron bomb. But since the Minister of State Security reports directly to you, if this had taken place, wouldn't you of all people have known about it, have heard about it?
ZHU (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Well, I as I have said previously, I really didn't want to come now. Now, it's not that I didn't want to come at all. I just felt that perhaps this trip would have been better if it had taken place later. But the reason I felt that way was because I feared that the current atmosphere was not very good, that on many issues there is an anti-China sentiment, that is very pervasive. And it's not related specifically to this espionage case. So I think that this is a problem in the United States right now.
And I have already said in Washington, D.C., that I had not heard of such an espionage case. I do not believe that China would be acquire such American military secrets through espionage. Before coming here, I had asked President Jiang Zemin about this issue and he personally told me that he knew nothing about it. And President Jiang and I also went to ask our military leaders and they said that they knew nothing about this. And I also asked our minister of state security, and he said he knew nothing about it. So if you want to investigate, we will be willing to assist you.
WOODRUFF: If it had happened, if it happened, would the United States be right in insisting on some sort of verification for future secure transfers, transfers of high -- of a high security nature?
ZHU (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): I think right now, the U.S. is far too restrictive in its exports towards China. There are many things that don't even qualify to be called "high tech." And even so, they are not allowed to be exported to China. You know, we need computers to do weather forecasting with, but even that kind of computers the United States will not export to us. And I feel that this is a very important reason why there is a trade deficit between China and the U.S.
WOODRUFF: Is spying ever appropriate between friendly countries?
ZHU (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): That, to me, sounds like your posing a philosophical question, but I can only answer by saying I know of no espionage case.
WOODRUFF: I wondered what your view was, if you thought it was ever appropriate?
ZHU (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): I know of no espionage activities directed against the United States.
WOODRUFF: A number of sensitive areas that I want to ask you about, one right after the other. One is, the next one is Theater Missile Defense. This is something the United States has discussed with Japan, there's been some speculation that if such a thing is created, Taiwan might be invited to be part of it. If that happens, what would your country do?
ZHU (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Our view of the Theater Missile Defense system is that it violates international agreements on missiles and it is not conducive to arms control. Whether or not you build a TMD, that's your business. But if you were to get Taiwan involved in this TMD, then China's position is that it would be adamantly opposed to such an action, because this action would be an intervention in China's internal affairs, as well as a transgression and encroachment on China's sovereignty.
WOODRUFF: And can you say what China would do?
ZHU (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Well, what could we do? We would be objecting. We would hope that the Americans would take our views into consideration.
WOODRUFF: One other -- one of several other issues of disagreement between the United States and China came from alleged campaign contributions. Have you -- you know, General Xi, the head of the military intelligence division -- have you or others asked him if he gave this gentleman, Johnny Chung, money to give to the Democratic Party in the United States?
ZHU (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Well, I've already said that if China were going to get into giving campaign contributions because we felt that those contributions were effective, we would certainly never be so stupid as to limit the contribution to a mere $300,000. As for the General Xi that you mentioned, I do not know him. I have never met him. And I know nothing as to whether or not he has ever done such a thing or what motive he could possibly have if he did do such a thing. But I did promise President Clinton that we would work with him in investigating this matter. I might also add that I also asked President Jiang about this matter, and he again said that he knew nothing about it either.
WOODRUFF: Kosovo. Your government has been very clear: It opposes the NATO air strikes. Is your government supportive of the government of Mr. Milosevic?
ZHU (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Our position is based on what is right. It is based on international law and based on international norm. And what we are opposed to is intervention in the internal affairs or the sovereignty of a country, and ethnic conflicts fall within the scope of internal affairs. We do -- absolutely do not see this in ideological terms, nor are we aligning ourselves with any particular individual person, nor are we taking this stance because of some selfish interest of our own. Right now, you can see that this military intervention has already led to a large number of casualties, as well as economic losses. And this includes even three Americans who have been taken prisoner. And we are very concerned about this. The Balkans are known to be the powder keg of Europe, and wars that have taken place in the Balkans are likely to be very dangerous. And that is why we hope this intervention will come to a halt and that political negotiations can get underway again because this would be the only way to achieve a true solution to this problem. And this is also in the best interest of the people of the whole world, including the people of the United States as well as the people of Yugoslavia and also the people of Kosovo.
WOODRUFF: You've said you favor a political solution no matter ethnic violence is underway. I want to ask to be clear, do you truly mean that no matter what ethnic violence takes place, no matter how many lives are lost, that it's the internal matter of a country that no one else should get involved?
ZHU (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): We are against any kind of ethnic killings, regardless of who is engaged in it, and this is provided, of course, if this has been going on. Based on our own experience, we believe that many ethnic problems were created in the vestiges of history and that a lot of the mutual killing that takes place in ethnic conflict is exceptionally brutal. But, you see, the way to solve this would be for the government of the country involved to have the different ethnic groups sit down on a basis of equality and friendship and to talk it out among themselves. Any form of external intervention will only increase the number of casualties. It will not solve the problems.
WOODRUFF: Under any circumstances?
ZHU (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): We do not want to see greater loss of life.
WOODRUFF: A question about your country, China. Where would you like to see China? Where do you think China will be 40, 50, 60 years from now? Will it be a socialist country? Will there be some democracy? How do you see it developing politically and economically?
ZHU: Well, I think in another 40 years, 50 years or even 60 years, China will have developed. But even then, it will still not have surpassed the United States. It will certainly not be a threat to the United States. It could only be a friend to the United States, and possibly be a good market of the United States. Political reform in China will continue, but we will continue to maintain socialism. And our economic system will continue to be that of a socialist market economy, because this is the only system which would allow us to avoid economic crises. But of course there is much that we have to learn from you because your current period of economic expansion is the longest in history.
WOODRUFF: Socialism forever?
ZHU (WITHOUT TRANSLATOR): Yes. (LAUGHTER)
ZHU (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): But the socialism I'm talking about has Chinese characteristics.
WOODRUFF: You have, coming up this year, the tenth anniversary of the pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing. You said to the Wall Street Journal, in an interview before you left Beijing -- and I'm quoting you -- you said, "We hope not to witness the recurrence of such things." What did you mean by that?
ZHU (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Well, what you are talking about is the episode that happened on June the 4th, 1989. In China, we have already come to a very clear conclusion about that incident. And to this day, we have not changed our conclusion. But I do believe that this sort of thing will not happen again because we now have this experience.
WOODRUFF: What do you think will not happen again: the pro-democracy demonstrations, or the way the government chose to deal with those?
ZHU (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Because we're sure China has an adequate measure of democracy now, therefore we feel that something like that will not happen again.
WOODRUFF: Does China have something to fear from democracy?
ZHU (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): I have been spending my lifetime fighting for democracy. So, I don't see anything about it that I should be afraid of. We want democracy. We also want rule of law. So of course at wanting democracy you cannot violate the law, but democracy and rule of law should be developed together, side by side concurrently. The episode in 1989 happened because they wanted democracy but they didn't want rule of law. Now, of course, I really wouldn't be in a position to say if what they wanted was really democracy or what form of democracy it was that they wanted.
WOODRUFF: And finally, Premier Zhu, let me ask you, what would be your message to people around the world to perhaps -- to help them understand about China something perhaps that they don't understand now? What would you have people know or understand about your country -- people in the United States, people in Europe, Africa, the rest of the world that perhaps they don't know?
ZHU (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Well, I think that in the current anti-China sentiment in the United States, the people whose voices are loudest, the ones who lack the understanding of China the most and oftentimes they are the ones who've never been to China who raise their voices the most. And so, I think the best way to promote and facilitate better relations between China and the United States will be to have more exchanges of people, to have people visiting each more often, to have people communicating with each other better.
WOODRUFF: Premier Zhu, we thank you very much-all of us at CNN thank you very much for talking with us in this interview.
ZHU (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): If I may, I would like to take this opportunity through CNN to make one final remark. Namely, that on this visit, President Clinton and the government of the United States have extended great hospitality to us, and this has given us an opportunity to have this very constructive and productive visit. And we've also managed to visit six of your major cities and meet with a great number of people from many different circles. And through these visits we've come to have a very strong feeling of the positive sentiment that American people have for Chinese people. And so, I would like to take this opportunity to express our very heartfelt thanks to the people of the United States, to the government of the United States and to President Clinton. Thank you very much.
WOODRUFF: I won't set up any rivalry by asking you which was your favorite city. Thank you very much.
ZHU (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): I liked all the cities. (LAUGHTER)
WOODRUFF: Spoken like a politician. Thank you very much, Premier Zhu.
ZHU ( THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Yes, thank you very much.
WOODRUFF: And from New York, I'm Judy Woodruff.
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