THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (New York, New York) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release September 8, 2000
BACKGROUND BRIEFING BY A SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ON PRESIDENT CLINTON'S BILATERAL WITH PRESIDENT JIANG ZEMIN OF CHINA
Waldorf-Astoria New York, New York
12:39 P.M. EDT
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On the Clinton-Jiang meeting, they met for about an hour and a half this morning, a very good meeting in that these two have met with each other many times over eight years, they know each other well, they are able to speak in a frank and friendly fashion. Both terms are important. They say what's on their minds.
The President may say to Jiang, I know I'm never going to convince you of this; I've tried for years and I won't convince you, but I've got to tell you, I really believe the following, and this is the way to go. And Jiang will say, well, I listened the last time; I actually went back and I read some materials on this and we made a decision, but then such and such screwed it. You know, they'll have that kind of conversation back and forth.
It's important to understand that because the real value of this meeting is that it took up all the really key issues in our relationship, and it wasn't designed to reach specific decisions, it was designed to get these two men on the same wavelength a little more and to get -- all the top officials who deal with foreign affairs were in the room, and it's to get everyone listening to them and how they handle the issue and the directions in which they want things to move. I think on that level this meeting served exactly the purpose that we sought.
What are the key issues that they took up? This is not in order, but it covers them all. Cross-strait relations between the mainland and Taiwan; missile proliferation; PNTR and China's entry into the WTO; Tibet, and separately, but related, obviously, the issue of religious restrictions in China; Korea, North-South summit, the missiles for launch proposal that President Putin reported from his trip to North Korea; and a review of U.S.-China relations and what they've learned about their relationship in eight years of dealing with each other.
So it was a substantial agenda, and on each of those I think it's fair to say, quite substantive. Let me stop there and take whatever questions.
Q Do you want to just go through some of these, like what did they talk about on cross-strait relations? Did Jiang give any assurances that China wouldn't move on Taiwan?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think our basic objective was to encourage a cross-strait dialogue. It is clear that by now the cross-strait relationship has kind of sought its own level. The Chinese are in a wait-and-see attitude. On his side, Chen Shui-bian has made a number of moves to take the edge off of the fact that he is from the democratic progressive party, which has traditionally been a pro-independence party. Our feeling is that we would like this relationship, though, not to kind of remain where each side is warily watching the other, but rather we'd like to see a dialogue begin to move the relationship forward. And the discussion focused on that.
Q Forward to what end?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Forward to a peaceful resolution of the cross-strait issue, which we have long advocated.
Q I take it Jiang was not prepared to go any further in the dialogue with Taiwan.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think this was, again, more an explanation of how each side sees the issue at this point. We are not now, and never seeking to negotiate a solution to this issue. So it is more -- our role is more facilitate and encouraging, and that's very much the spirit of this conversation today.
Q Was there anything that the President was particularly frank on? You were describing in a kind of hypothetical way his being blunt. Was he particularly blunt on any of these points when it comes to, say, missile proliferation?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think he was frank, but not in -- I know that's usually used when you describe a conversation to say that they just went at it tooth and tong and disagreed, and that is not the way I'm using it. I want to be very clear about that. But he was very straightforward I think on each of these issues.
On PNTR, for example, that we should get this and he's working hard on it, he thinks we will get it. But in the wake of PNTR, he's got to be able to say to the Congress -- honestly, he's got to certify that the deal that China has going into the WTO meets in every substantive fashion the deal that we did bilaterally with the Chinese. And he pointed out some issues that they have to really be mindful of, to make sure that that occurs.
He looks him right in the eye and says, now, you've got to do that. It's that kind of -- it was in that spirit on each of these issues. I don't want to get into the details of what specific examples he used, but there was -- again, they know each other well enough to kind of do this back and forth, and stress that they're good friends and smile at the end. So the tone was good, but this was not a lot of kind of fluff. This was really quite substantive all the way through.
Q Was there anything that President Jiang refused to do? I mean when he said, you've got to do that, is there anything he said, uh-uh?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, there's nothing he said no to. He would give his perspective on issues, and then we have to -- the way these things work is each of us gives a perspective and then at the next level down or two levels down, you start working to, starting from there, getting it together more concretely.
So I do not want to suggest that he sat there and simply said, gee, you've just articulated my thoughts completely or persuaded me completely -- no. But he would try to -- he picked up every issue the President raised and said, this is the way I think about this, or this is what we've been doing on this, or this is where we want to go on this. And then, for many of them, the President came back at him. I mean, it was a real -- this was not each man sitting there reading talking points, this was a real back-and-forth.
Q Did missile defense come up?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Only briefly. The President mentioned that it was -- explained very briefly the reasons for his decision. Jiang followed the issue, not surprisingly. The President stressed that the issue of a missile threat, and not only from established nuclear powers, a threat like that in the future is real. And he said he'll encourage his successor to engage in serious dialogue with the Chinese and others so as to try to get a clearer, common understanding of the threat and how we can all end up more secure by what we do about it.
He said, I don't know whether we're going to end up convincing people and reaching a common understanding, but I will sure encourage my successor, whoever it is, to engage in that effort very seriously. And he said, Jiang, I hope that you will engage in that effort equally seriously, that you'll think about this and you'll be ready to engage on it. Jiang said --
Q What did Jiang -- how did he respond?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, I, frankly, don't remember his exact wording, but basically he said, yes, that's a good idea and we take this as a very serious issue. Don't quote that because that's not exactly what he said, but that's the spirit of it.
Q What did President Clinton raise in the human rights arena? Did he talk about the Falun Gong at all?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He focused on restrictions on religion in China, on the human rights -- you know, we have a wide-ranging human rights agenda with them, and you can't go through the whole agenda at each meeting. Here he focused both on Tibet and repression of religion in Tibet, among other things; and more broadly, on restrictions on religion in China and his belief that religious freedom is good for China.
And Jiang, it's fair to say, does not regard China as very much repressing religion. That isn't his way of framing the issue. But he went into an historical review of when different religions came to China and noted that Christianity came really with foreign incursions into China over the last couple hundred years, as versus Buddhism and Islam that have very different histories.
They actually got into a back-and-forth -- Jiang wanted to know whether America is primarily Protestant, and the President went into the social bases, kind of historical bases of Catholicism in the U.S. Some of this is really just kind of get to know the other country better type discussion.
Q So he felt Christianity was a passing fancy? (Laughter.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I wasn't suggesting that. What I interpreted him as trying to convey, although he did not say it, is that you've got to understand, Christianity among China's religions has a certain baggage among the Chinese because it's very much associated with Western humiliation of China over the last couple hundred years. He didn't state that, but he put the pieces in place for the President to understand that.
Q Did their conversation about human rights, was it tied to the PNTR debate at all?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, not really, because they have a very longstanding dialogue on human rights. I mean, they have discussed this every time they have gotten together that I've been in the room, and that's -- I've been every time for a few years now, and I know it predates that. the President has said publicly that he has felt the Chinese are on the wrong side of history on how they handle these issues. So this is not a new topic or one where they pull a lot of punches.
There was a substantial PNTR discussion, but we weren't saying, do better on human rights to get PNTR. We were saying, do better on human rights because it's in the interest of you and of the Chinese people that you do better on human rights, and we really think this is what the future requires.
So both were discussed, but, no, it wasn't, do this in order to get PNTR. Hell, they're going to get PNTR we believe within a couple of weeks. We want the human rights agenda to remain long afterwards. And also, yes, the President did make the case -- he reminds me -- that part of the discussion of PNTR -- there was actually a question during the pool -- you were all there -- and the President said, look, it's in our interest that China get PNTR. It's good for the U.S., it's good for the Chinese. It works for both sides.
Q What about the Korean missile -- the offer by Kim Jong-Il?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Here, the issue, as you know, he made this comment through President Putin -- President Putin subsequently went to China and talked with Jiang Zemin, and among other things they talked about that issue. President Putin told Jiang what he has told others, which is to say that his view was this was a serious subject. There was a subsequent report in the South Korean media that Kim Jong-Il said that this was said in a joking fashion. That wasn't Putin's impression. But Jiang recognizes the sensitivity of the issue and so did not want to intrude into that -- he didn't respond to Putin, let me get involved in this. They certainly want stability on the Korean Peninsula, he made that very clear.
Let me make one final comment on that. It wasn't part of the conversation this morning, but it's relevant. We've gone back and looked at the Korean language version of what Kim Jong-Il actually said and our -- I don't speak Korean -- our interpreters say that in that context, clearly it didn't mean joking. It said it as, part of our discussion -- it was a positive discussion, not that it was a joke. So there is a sense of a real mistranslation in the English language media out of South Korea.
Q Did Clinton take it directly up with Kim Jong-Il? I mean, why go through three other countries to --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, Clinton and Kim Jong-Il do not regularly talk to each other.
Q But they could on this.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me say, we are prepared to take that subject up very seriously. If they are prepared to move forward, we will look for a realistic basis to do that, and we'll follow up. In broad terms, that is an idea worth pursuing. So that's the serious answer to your question.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We have missile talks scheduled -- or not scheduled yet, but we hope to have those in the next few weeks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I want to check to be exact, but we will have missile talks again, yes.
Q Could you just say something about the status of U.S.-China relations in the wake of this meeting?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Oh, I think -- actually, President Clinton referred, somewhat jokingly, when they first sat down to something that, in fact, is serious. No, actually, I guess this is during the pre-brief. When asked kind of how he would sum up the relationship after eight years, he said, I thought Jiang's interview on 60 Minutes -- he said, he described our relationship as like the weather, generally good, but occasional storms. He said, that's about right.
And I think that is his view of the relationship. It is a relationship that is now a wide-ranging, complex, very much in the interest of both countries to handle well, but we do bump into some problems that can be very tough. We've gotten to the point we can discuss those problems frankly without the whole relationship going off a cliff. That's been one of the real accomplishments over recent years.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 12:53 P.M. EDT