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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release April 8, 1999
                      REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT

                         State Dining Room

9:04 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: 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. (Applause.)

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 dialogue 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 dialogue 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've 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 the 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.

(A toast is offered.) (Applause.)

PREMIER ZHU: Mr. President and Mrs. Clinton, ladies and gentlemen. May I begin by extending on behalf of my wife and colleagues, and also in my own name, our heartfelt gratitude to you, Mr. President and Mrs. Clinton, for hosting this grand dinner for us. I also wish to take this opportunity to express our sincere appreciation to the government and the people of the United States, especially to my old friends present today, for the very warm welcome and hospitality. (Applause.)

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and the United States. So this relationship has traversed a quite tortuous course in the past two decades. But I always believe that the friendly relations and the cooperation between China and the United States are developing and growing in greater depth and scope, and also with constant improvement in its quality.

Following the successful and historical visits by President Clinton and President Jiang, China and the United States are working together to build towards a constructive strategic partnership. Such a partnership will serve the interests of people of both our countries, and also the interests of the people in the world. So we should steadfastly stay this course.

Disagreements are unavoidable between any friends, but I have every confidence that any problem between China and the United States can be resolved through friendly consultations. We share the responsibility to further enhance mutual understanding and also increase exchanges between our two countries and the two peoples, so as to further develop the friendship between us.

Just now, in his toast, President Clinton mentioned the Chinese civilization. As a matter of fact, today, in the White House, I learned a lot about the American civilization. Today, I also went to visit Abraham Lincoln's bedroom, and I also saw that manuscript by him of the Gettysburg Address. I learned that address when I was in my middle school years, and at that time I could recite it, but I'm afraid now I cannot do so. (Laughter.) There's "of the people, by the people, and for the people." (Laughter and applause.)

Meanwhile, I also had the opportunity of visiting the place where President Roosevelt made his very famous Fireside Chats. It gave me very great pleasure to have this opportunity to see that site, because during the second world war, we already had the pleasure of reading that.

And I especially, very appreciate the welcoming ceremony held today and also the ceremony before this evening's dinner. I think these ceremonies are very grand, and also make us feel very close to each other. Well, in China, we don't have such ceremonies. But I also would like to say something quite honest, because President Clinton said I'm a man famous for being quite honest. Just now, just at the receiving line, because by standing there for so long, I felt that I couldn't move my legs, so it's really -- (laughter) -- it's terrible for me.

But anyway, I think this is a very good ceremony and very good practice. That is, through such handshakes, this can bring me closer to each and every guest to this evening's dinner. The reason why, it's terrible for me because I'm already 70 years old, not as young as President Clinton. (Laughter.)

Maybe I should not have been so honest -- just now, President Clinton also said that the Western opera makes me want me to take a nap. Here, I'd like to explain. Please, don't misunderstand me. It is said that I took a nap when I watched the Western opera, but that's not true. I just said I just wanted to take a nap, but not really took a nap. (Laughter.) And also, more than that, I have not taken a nap and also I applauded and clapped my hands very hard. But I'm afraid maybe sometimes I clapped my hands at the wrong time. (Laughter.)

So I really believe that to strengthen culture exchanges between China and the United States is a very necessary way for promoting a lasting friendship between our two peoples.

I wish to let you know that today we had very friendly, candid, constructive and productive talks with President Clinton and his colleagues. We have reached agreements on many issues, and we have enhanced mutual understanding on the issues over which we still have some disagreements. And we have also reached concrete agreements on several areas. For instance, on the question of China's accession into the WTO, we are going to make a joint statement. And we have also reached agreement on the SPS -- that's the agriculture issue -- as a part of the WTO negotiation, and I believe this agreement will get the full support of all of you present tonight.

But I think the most important part of my visit to the United States is in the coming days; that is to say, during my traveling in the United States to several cities, and to have direct contact with the American people, so as to enhance our mutual friendship.

I think I should take the advice from President Clinton, because today, he told me a story about one of your Presidents in history who died after two hour-long speech. So I just cannot go on talking. (Laughter.) But, still, although I've tried my best, but I cannot do as well as President Abraham Lincoln did, because his speech, Gettysburg speech, was only two and a half minutes, but I believe this speech will forever be remembered by people throughout the world in the years and the decades and centuries to come.

So let's please join me in raising your glass to propose a toast to the health of President and Mrs. Clinton, to the health of all the friends present tonight, and to the friendly relations and the cooperation between China and the United States of America.

(A toast is offered.) (Applause.)

END 9:28 P.M. EDT