Clinton Defends China Trip, Engagement Policy
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, June 11) -- President Bill Clinton offered a fierce defense Thursday of U.S. policy toward China and his upcoming state visit to the world's most populous nation. "I'm going because I think it's the right thing to do for our country," Clinton said.
"If the choice is between making a symbolic point and making a real difference, I choose to make the difference," Clinton said in a talk to scholars at the National Geographic Society.
"And when it comes to advancing human rights and religious freedom, dealing directly and speaking honestly to the Chinese is clearly the best way to make a difference," he said.
Clinton's eight-day trip will be the first by a U.S. president in a decade, and it comes at a critical time for U.S.-Chinese relations. Some in Congress argue Beijing has done little to improve a dismal record on human rights. And there are also nagging ethical questions regarding Clinton's dealings with China.
Calling his administration's policy of "constructive engagement" both principled and pragmatic, Clinton answered his critics who argue the U.S. should isolate China. "Seeking to isolate China is clearly unworkable," he said.
"Choosing isolation over engagement would not make the world safer," Clinton said. "It would make it more dangerous. It would undermine, rather than strengthen, our efforts to foster stability in Asia. It will eliminate, not facilitate, cooperation on issues relating to weapons of mass destruction."
China has already helped ease tensions in the South Asian subcontinent following recent nuclear tests by India and Pakistan, Clinton said.
But the U.S. must cooperate with China to further defuse the security threat, he said. "Because of its history with both countries, China must be a part of any ultimate resolution of this matter," Clinton said.
Isolation would also hurt efforts to influence Chinese leadership in the cause of democracy and human rights. "When it comes to human rights and religious freedom, China remains on the wrong side of history," Clinton said.
But by bringing China into the community of nations and the global economy, the U.S. has a better chance of advancing U.S. interests and democratic values, the president argued.
"Over time, I believe China's leaders must accept freedom's progress, because China can only reach its full potential if its people are free to reach theirs," Clinton said.
Addressing another controversial aspect of his upcoming trip, Clinton said he would be received at Tiananmen Square, the location of the 1989 massacre of pro-democracy dissidents.
Clinton said he would participate in the welcoming ceremony because that is where the Chinese government receives visiting heads of state. "Protocol and honoring a nation's traditional practices should not be confused with principle," he said.
The president also defended his authorization of U.S. satellite launchings on Chinese missiles, saying that he was continuing a policy put in place by former President Ronald Reagan and continued by former President George Bush.
He said his administration continued the practice for "the simple reason that the demand for American satellites far outstrips America's launch capacity, and because others, including Russian and European nations, can do this job at much less cost.
"It is important for every American to understand that there are strict safeguards, including a Department of Defense plan for each launch, to prevent any assistance to China's missile programs," he said.