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Special Event

Clinton, Past and Present Leaders Call for Normal Trade Relations with China

Aired May 9, 2000 - 11:07 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BILL TUCKER, CNN ANCHOR: Now we are going to go down to Daryn in Atlanta for the latest on the rally, and the push by the administration to get behind normalization with trade with China -- Daryn.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, it is all part of an effort to bring China into the World Trade Organization.

Let's take you live right now to the East Room of the White House, quite the guest list here, you see former President Gerald Ford at the podium. He is flanked by President Clinton and former President Carter.

Let's go ahead and listen to President Ford.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

GERALD FORD, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... President Clinton, President Carter, distinguished guests. Because of a lengthy career in the federal government, I'm going to ask your indulgence for just a minute so I can review a couple of historical things that took place related to this particular subject.

On February 9, 1949, 50 plus years ago, as a member of the House of Representatives, I voted for reciprocal trade legislation that had been recommended at that time by then President Harry Truman. Basically, the bill renewed President Truman's expiring authority to negotiate trade agreements in the second round of GATT negotiations.

It passed in the House, 319 to 69. A majority of the Democrats in the House voted for it, a majority of the Republicans in the House voted for it. Congressman John F. Kennedy voted for it. Congressman Richard Nixon voted for it. Congressman Carl Albert voted for it. And so did myself.

It is interesting, in retrospect that all three of those freshmen or second termers who voted for that legislation later became president and promoted the same kind of legislation as the occupant of the White House. And, of course, Carl Albert did it as speaker of the House of Representatives.

The Truman administration, in the post World War II environment, was attempting to undue the tragedy of the high-tariff protectionist trade policies of the 1930s. The Smoot-Halley isolationist high tariff legislation of that era had accelerated and deepened the horrible economic depression of the 1930s.

Ten American presidents, Democrat and Republican, every Congress since the end of World War II, in a bipartisan action, have recognized that the expansion of global trade was essential for prosperity and growth in America, and on a worldwide basis.

Historically, in the past half century, trade legislation has been a bipartisan policy where the executive and the legislative branches Democrat, Republican, worked side by side. I'm highly pleased that such political teamwork is now working on this issue in this very critical time.

In this current crisis involving PNTR, comparable cooperation is absolutely mandatory, and I'm highly honored to join President Clinton, Carter, and other distinguished individuals, urging very strongly affirmative action in the Congress on PNTR.

The facts are, a negative vote in the House and/or the Senate would be catastrophic, disastrous to American agriculture, electronics, telecommunications, autos, and countless other products and services. A negative vote in the Congress would greatly assist our foreign competitors from Europe or Asia by giving them privileged access to China markets and, at the same time, exclude America's farm and factory production from the vast Chinese market. Equally important, the vote on PNTR definitely affects America's strategic and security interests on a global basis, but especially in the Pacific basin.

As it has been noted earlier this afternoon, China, right now, is in the midst of restructuring thousands of state-owned enterprises in an effort to transform its centrally planned economy into a market- oriented regime. We want China's economic reform to succeed. Our own interests are best served by a steadily growing China that contributes stability, politically, economically, in Asia. Congressional action on PNTR would be most beneficial at this very critical point.

I'm not unmindful that China's political regime remains repressive and that we have serious concerns with respect to China's treatment of its dissidents, its transfer of missile equipment and technology, and its efforts to intimidate Taiwan. But a vote against PNTR will not solve those problems. Indeed, prominent Chinese dissidents like Wang Dan and the newly elected president of Taiwan believe that a negative vote on PNTR will make their issues much more difficult to solve.

In conclusion, our future national security and foreign policy interests are enhanced by increased interaction with the world's largest nation in population and in territory that holds one of the five permanent votes in the United Nations Security Council.

May I say most emphatically, I am convinced that a vote for PNTR significantly advances America's economic, strategic and security interests. I urge the Congress to be affirmative.

And now it's...

(APPLAUSE)

And now it's my very high honor to introduce the 39th president, President Jimmy Carter, a very dear and good friend.

President Carter.

(APPLAUSE)

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: President Clinton, President Ford, Secretary Baker, Secretary Kissinger, I think everyone listening to this ceremony realizes the tremendous historical significance of the Shanghai Communique that was issued in 1972. This communique opened up the possibilities for us to deal with one of the most powerful influential nations in the world, China. At that time, it was declared that there was one China. But it was seven years later before we decided which one.

When I became president, one of the greatest challenges that I had to face was whether we should normalize diplomatic relations with China, which was a very sensitive political issue because it involved a change in our relationship with Taiwan.

As I am today, I was concerned about human rights and I was concerned about the well-being of the working people of this country. And I want to limit my own comments to those two issues: labor and human rights.

One of the choices I had to make was whom to send to China to begin the secret negotiations with Deng Xiaoping. He was the unquestioned ruler of the nation. And I chose a man who was the senior statesman of the American labor movement, Leonard Woodcock, respected by, I guess, every working man and woman who is a member of a union or not in this country. And he was also respected by all those who had dealt with him from the management side. And he was my personal representative in Beijing.

Leonard Woodcock, working directly with me from the White House, negotiated successfully the terms for normalization of diplomatic relations. And on first day of January, 1979, we formed those relationships. That year, Leonard Woodcock, still highly conversant with and whose heart was attuned to the labor movement of America, negotiated the first trade agreement -- most favored nations agreement with China in 1979. And now, for 20 years, each year the Congress has confirmed his decision and mine.

Recently, Leonard Woodcock, still with the interest of our nation and the labor movement at heart, said -- and I would like to quote his exact words -- "this proposal for permanent normal trade relations with China will be enormously beneficial both to United States and to Chinese workers." And he said that the loss of trade with China would cost American workers 400,000 jobs.

At the Carter Center now, we stay in close touch with human rights heroes around the world. And almost every single Chinese dissident -- President Ford mentioned one -- who has spoken on this subject has publicly advocated approval of permanent trade relations with China as one of the key factors in continuing the improvement of human rights respect in China.

It's hard now for us to remember that, in 1978 when we were negotiating, human rights in China were quite different from what they are now. There was no such thing as free enterprise in China. There was no such thing as religious freedom. There was a total prohibition against the use or distribution of Bibles in China.

What the Chinese have done has not been adequate in human rights or religious freedom measured by American standards. In 1982, Deng Xiaoping had the Constitution revised to guarantee freedom of religion. As a Baptist, I resent the fact that religious congregations of all kinds have to register with the government. I prefer that they not have to. But that's a fact. There is now no impediment to the distribution of Bibles.

At that time, there was no right of a Chinese human being to move from one village to another, without official approval, written approval by the government. Now travel is open.

At that time, as I said, there was no free enterprise system. Now China is probably making as much progress on free enterprise as any country in the world, from the village level all the way up to the top levels of government.

There was no such thing as a vote in China by an individual. Most people don't know that in 1982 the constitution of China was also amended to permit villagers to choose their own leaders, and in 1987, an organic law was passed in China authorizing and confirming the right of villagers to have their own election process.

In 1996, the Chinese government came to the Carter Center and asked us to monitor their conduct of village elections, there are 900,000 villages in China. In every village, voter registration is automatic at the age of 18. Any candidate can run for office, whether you are a member of the Communist Party or not. And now, about half the village officials elected are not member of the Communist Party. There is a secret ballot in every village election, and the terms of office are three years and you can run for reelection.

You might be interested in knowing that, as we have monitored those elections, we see the candidates making a campaign speech limited to three minutes while the villagers all listen. At the end of a three-year term, if they run for reelection, they replay the speech they made three years earlier, and if the potholes are not filled, and the pear trees have died, or the elementary school teachers are not successful, or the garbage doesn't get picked up, they are not reelected.

This does not apply to the township level, the county level, the province level or the national election level. But it does apply to all of 900,000 villages. And the Carter Center is deeply involved in that because, although we don't have any guarantee that it will extend to higher level, although Zhu Rongji has announced that it might very well do so, if the village election process is unsuccessful, democratization will not improve. If the village elections are successful, which so far they are, then there is a chance at least for more democracy in China.

Deng Xiaoping and I discussed all the controversial issues, there were dozens of them on the table. One, obviously, was Taiwan, which is still very difficult. We agreed then, and every president since then has agreed, that there is one nation and that Taiwan is part of China.

We also announced in 1979, in 1978 in December, that our supposition was that any differences between the central government on the mainland and Taiwan would be resolved peacefully, and that is still the policy of the United States.

Well, China still has not measured up to the human rights and democracy standards, and labor standards of America. But there is no doubt in my mind that a negative vote on this issue in the Congress will be a serious setback and impediment for the further democratization, freedom, and human rights in China. That should be the major consideration for the Congress and the nation.

And I hope the members of Congress will vote accordingly, particularly those who are interested in human rights, as I am, and those who are interested in the well-being of American workers, as I am.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, SECRETARY OF STATE: Our next speaker has been thinking deeply for decades about the strategic challenges and choices our nation would face in the new century. He understands well both the traditional forces at work in international affairs and the new patterns that result from the changing political and technological landscape.

As vice president, he has contributed much to the principles, strength and pragmatism of our national security policies, to the success of our diplomacy with partners in key regions and to the Clinton administration's commitment to building a global economy that is not only growing, but fair.

And so I am very pleased and highly honored to introduce a great national leader, the vice president of the United States, Al Gore.

ALBERT GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much, thank you. Hey, Tom. Thank you very much, thank you very much, Secretary Albright.

It is a great honor to be on this platform, with this distinguished group, and in this room with such a distinguished group, and I want to thank you, Madam Secretary, for your kind introduction, and I want to especially thank President Ford and President Carter for their eloquent statements in support of America making the right decision on this critical issue.

I would also like to thank President Bush, who is not here today, but who has been unequivocal on this issue. In addition to -- and I would like to thank Secretary Kissinger, and Secretary Baker for their support.

And I would just like to briefly make note of the fact that we have a great many other former secretaries of state who are here, secretaries of the treasury, national security advisers. I wonder if I could ask the former secretaries of state to stand, please, so that we could acknowledge your presence here. I know that Warren Christopher here -- is here, and Alexander Haig. I don't think Larry -- former national security advisers, could I ask the former national security advisers, to stand, I know Tony Blake is here, Brent Scowcroft, Brzezinski.

And former secretaries of the Treasury, I know that I'm not sure -- yes thank you, thank you both for being here.

And former trade negotiators, I think I saw a couple of -- thank you. I know we have at least one former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Crow. I don't know if there are other military leaders here who are here. Are there military leaders? Yes, please stand up, former members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

And, members of Congress, and I see least one governor, Governor Jesse Ventura is here, ambassadors, and others.

You know, you look at the -- this group of leaders. This is a kind of an extraordinary gathering. There are a few times in the life of our nation when a truly difficult choice comes along, and the incumbent president appeals to the leaders of Congress, and there are many former leaders of Congress here as well, and goes through all the arguments on the merits, and then the stakes are obviously so high that he has to go beyond that, and call upon the collected wisdom of the elder statesmen, and the individuals who have served in both political parties, and independents, who have looked at this from a variety of different stand points, and who have all come to the same conclusion.

And I just think that a gathering like this ought to have such tremendous weight in the way people analyze issues. Having voted so many times as a member of the House and Senate myself, I know that it is always a mix of substance and politics, and how the people back home are looking at the issues.

But when the issue is one that effects the country so greatly, it has to matter a lot that so many men and women, with so much accumulated wisdom and experience over such a long period of time are coming together to offer their collective advice today.

And President Ford, I was listening to your comment about the 1949 vote, and recalling that another young congressman in 1949 was my father, Congressman Albert Gore, who voted as you did on that measure, building upon the work of his hometown mentor, Cordell Hull, who was a former secretary of state, who won the Nobel Peace Prize at the end of World War II for negotiating and bringing in to being the predecessor of the WTO, the GATT. And, one of his common situation in this little town of Carthage of 3,000 people, not often quoted these days, was this, he said, "When goods do not cross borders, armies do." This is an economic issue. It is, also, a national security issue. We see the approaching inauguration of the newly elected leader on Taiwan. We see both Taipei and Beijing maneuvering to try to handle this transition artfully and well. What the United States Congress does on this issue will have an enormous impact on the prospects for peace and prosperity in the Far East.

It is also, as others have said, a labor issue and a human rights issue. May I add that I believe it is also an environmental issue. I have the honor of co-chairing with Premier Zhu Rongji, the U.S.-China Commission on Sustainable Development. There is absolutely no question that the increased openness of China to the rest of the world strengthens the voices not only of the human rights advocates that President Carter meets with on a regular basis, but, also, strengthens the advocates of environmental protection. Indeed, there are swirling controversies there right now on how to better protect the environment that would not have taken place just a few years ago. And there will be other vigorous debates in the future, if we do the right thing and approve this measure.

In my view, the economic merits of permanent normal trade relations with China are beyond dispute. It means good jobs for American workers, and 1.2 billion consumers for American products and services.

There are those who disagree with us on this issue. I respect their views, and I understand their impatience with the pace of change in China. I share it, as do most people in this room. We have to continue to press China on issues like human rights and workers' rights, environmental protection, religious freedom, and treatment of Tibet.

But I believe very deeply that by bringing China into the global economy, by making China live by the same global trading rules that other nations follow, we will strengthen the forces of reform across the board in China.

We will create a powerful new pressure on China to establish the rule of law, which is the foundation not just of a free and open economy, but also of the kind of political reforms that we are working to promote.

Expanding trade with China also advances our vital security interests by giving China a far greater stake in global peace and prosperity. China's leaders understand well that their nation cannot continue to grow unless it strengthens its economic ties with the world. Bringing China into the world trading system makes it far more likely that China's leaders will find it in their interests to play a meaningful role in global stability.

For all of these reasons, I strongly support permanent normal trade relations with China. It is right for American jobs, it is right for the cause of reform in China, and I believe it will move us closer to the strong and stable world community that we all seek to create. Now it is a deep honor and personal privilege to present someone who has, of course, taken enormous strides toward the freer and more vibrant world that we all seek.

Ladies and gentlemen, a great economic steward for America, the president of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much, thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you very much.

Thank you very much, President Ford, President Carter, Mr. Vice President, Secretary Albright, Secretary Baker, Secretary Kissinger, all the distinguished people that vice president acknowledged, many of you did not stand. We have so many distinguished leaders of Congress here, I would be remiss if I didn't thank our former speaker, Tom Foley, and former minority leader, Bob Michel, because they helped me pass NAFTA and the WTO, and I'm grateful to both of you, thank you.

And we have former House Foreign Relations Chairman Lee Hamilton, former Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Chuck Percy.

There is one person in this room I have to introduce. I wish all of you could have been siting where we were today. And I was scanning this room, realizing that, through the lives of the people in this room, the last 50 years of America has unfolded, and we are a better country because of what you have all done, and it has made a better world.

And it is just profoundly humbling for me to look across this sea of face who are here. I was so glad the vice president said what he did about it. But there is one person here, I want to recognize because I'm quite sure he is the senior statesman here, and through his life, most of the 20th century unfolded, former Ambassador and Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, thank you, sir, for being here. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

You have already heard what needs to be said about this. So I'm going to try to abbreviate my remarks and focus on what is at issue here. If you look at the terms of this agreement on purely economic grounds, there is no question that Ambassador Barshefsky and Mr. Sperling did a great job. And if the Congress declines to approve this, I will not block China going into the WTO.

So what will happen? The Europeans and the Japanese will get the benefits they negotiated under the rules. If you look at who is against this in America, it is truly ironic to look at who is against this in China, nobody has really talked about that. Not everybody is for this in China. Who is against it in China? The people that run the state-owned industries, and don't want to give up their control, the more conservative elements of the military, who would like to have greater tensions between ourselves and them and between ourselves -- and between themselves, excuse me, and the people of Taiwan.

It is truly ironic, when you look at who is against this in China, to see that some of the most progressive people in the United States are basically doing what they want them to do in opposing this agreement. And for me, it is very painful.

And I was very proud of the history that Presidents Ford gave us the last 50 years, and very proud of what President Carter said about how we feel about labor rights and human rights, and the labor movement here in this country.

But the people who are running China are not foolish people. They are highly intelligent. They know the decision they have made. They understand that they are unleashing forces of change which cannot be totally controlled in the system which, as President Carter says, has dominated in China over the last 21 years, since we normalized relations.

Two years ago, there were only two million Internet users in China. Last year, there were nine million, this year there will be over 20. At some point, there will be a critical mass reached. And when that happens there will be a sea change.

When Martin Lee was here the other day talking to people about this, he said: You know, I've led the democracy movement in Hong Kong for decades. I've never met Zhu Rongji. I can't even go to China. They won't let me go. But I'll tell you this, if you vote against this, the United States will have no influence on the human rights policies of the Chinese government.

So why are we having this debate? Because people are anxiety- ridden about the forces of globalization or they're frustrated over the human rights record of China or they don't want like all the procedures of the WTO. I mean, there are lots of things -- you know, everyone of you gets up every morning and there's something you don't like. That doesn't mean you should be against this agreement.

(LAUGHTER)

But that's what's -- this agreement has become like flypaper for the accumulated frustrations people have about things in the world that they don't like very much or that are spinning beyond their control or that they feel will have an uncertain result. And that's the world we're living in.

But I will say this, you know, people ask me all the time now that I've completed about over 90 percent of my term -- well, what have you learned about this, that or the other, and what have you learned about foreign policy?

I've learned it's a lot more like real life than I thought it was when I showed up here.

I read all of Dr. Kissinger's books, and I was immensely enlightened by them, but what he said today is right. Normally, unless you have to fight with somebody, you do better with an outstretched hand than with a clinched fist. You want to have a strong defense, you want to be ready for the worst, but you've got to try to plan for the best and give people a chance to do the right thing. President Carter was talking about those 900,000 village elections. I went to some of those villages and I met with some of those elected leaders. I think it would be a pretty good idea if they ran all of our campaign speeches back when we ran for election.

(LAUGHTER)

Of course I can say that since I'm not running for anything.

(LAUGHTER)

But, you know, I just have to say, this is an enormously impressive meeting, but the votes going to take place at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. And it's by far the most important national security vote that will be cast this year. It's an American vote. You know, it unites Henry Kissinger and Andy Young and Jesse Ventura, and not at a wrestling match.

I thank you for being here, sir. You didn't have to come today. And I really appreciate it.

(APPLAUSE)

But I will say this, we have got to tell people, you know, doesn't matter what the local political pressure is and it doesn't matter what your anxiety is, the truth is, if we vote for this, 10 years from now we will wonder why it was a hard fight.

And if the Congress votes against it, they'll be kicking themselves in the rear 10 years from now, because America will be paying the price. And I believe the price will start to be paid, not 10 years from now, not even 10 months from now, but immediately.

That's why the president-elect of Taiwan wants us so badly to approve permanent normal trading relations. That's why most of the human rights activists do.

And yes, you know, it's an economic issue, and you all know I'm interested in economics. And it's about as much of an economic lay- down as I've ever seen, because what we're giving as China membership in the WTO in return for greater access of their markets, the right to sell things there without having a manufacturer things there, the right to sells things there without having to transfer technology.

It will help us, because then we'll at least have some demonstration of our good faith commitment to the long-term decision they have made to try to be a more open society abiding by international rules of law.

Then we'll at least have a way to continue this dialogue and intensify it on religious rights, on political rights, on labor rights, on all human rights issues, on the environment, on missile and other technology proliferation, all these defense issues which have brought the former chiefs of staff and the former defense secretaries here and the former national security advisers here today. So what I would like to ask all of you to do when you leave here is to pick somebody you know in the Congress and call them and tell them what we're all saying to one another today.

Of course, we want the voice of this meeting to echo across the country and to embrace the Congress. I wish it weren't a fight, but it is.

And I'd just like to say one thing in closing: If you look at the whole sweep of American history, at critical periods, we've already been willing to redefine our responsibilities as a nation, first in ways that brought us together as a people in the 19th century and then all the way through the Great Depression and later through the civil rights revolution and the women's rights movement and the environmental movement, and second in ways that recognize our unique responsibilities first to our neighbors and then to those across the globe as we became more and more blessed.

One of the things I was thinking about in terms of our relationship with China is that President Nixon and President Carter and President Ford -- and even President Bush, for whose support we're very grateful for -- they all faced a different world than we face here today.

And frankly, they faced different challenges at home when they were making these tough decisions abroad.

We haven't been in this kind of economic and social shape in America since the early 1960s. If we can't do this now, when in the wide world will we ever be able to do it? What could we possibly be afraid of, based on the capacity of this country to grow its economy and improve its social condition? If we can't meet this kind of a challenge now, we are abandoning the legacy of the last 50 years when previous presidents and previous congresses have done things harder to do than this, and economic and social turbulence far greater than we face today.

In fact, I almost think that these good times are some sort of disability here because they encourage people to lose their focus, to lose their concentration, to sort of drift off and assume that there are no consequences to decisions that are not responsible. There are always consequences. And this country has never had a better chance to shape the world of the future for our children.

We all know it's the right decision. And virtually 100 percent of the people at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue know it's the right decision. We cannot allow our prosperity to lull us into self- indulgence.

We have to use our prosperity to build the 21st century world that many of you fought in World War II for, Senator Mansfield fought in World War I for, that you served in government for, that you gave your lives to public service for, that you sustained our standard for freedom throughout the Cold War for, that you supported all these other trade opening measures for. And if we can't do it with the lowest unemployment in 30 years and 21 million new jobs and the longest expansion in history, we will never be able to explain it to our children and our grandchildren. And this place will not be nearly as happy a place to be for the next several years.

But if we do it, one more time we will say, we kept faith in our time with America's eternal march.

Thank you, and God bless you.

(APPLAUSE)

KAGAN: We've been listening to President Clinton in the East Room of the White House. This is what you could call a power gathering at the White House today. It also shows support for granting permanent normal trade relations to China, which is part of easing China into the World Trade Organization.

Today's guest list included two former presidents, President Carter and President Ford. President Bush also saying that he supported the idea, but his schedule did not allow him to be at this event today. The House will vote on this measure on May 22. The issue is still to close to call.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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