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Special Event

President Clinton Comments on Passage of China Trade Bill

Aired May 24, 2000 - 6:02 p.m. ET

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

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: We go to the White House now for comments from President Clinton.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today the House of Representatives has taken an historic step toward continued prosperity in America, reform in China and peace in the world. If the Senate votes as the House has just done, to extend permanent normal trade relations with China, it will open new doors of trade for America and new hope for change in China.

Seven years ago, when I became president, I started -- I charted a new course for a new economy -- a course of fiscal discipline, investment in our people and open trade. I have always believed that by opening markets abroad we open opportunities at home. We've worked hard to advance that goal of more open and more fair trade since 1993, all the way up to the landmark legislation I signed just a few days ago to expand trade with Africa and the Caribbean Basin.

Just this week, Speaker Hastert and I reached an agreement that many members of the House in both parties had already supported to bring the same kinds of investment opportunity and jobs to America's new markets, to people in places here in this country who have not yet participated in our prosperity, in rural areas, inner cities, on our Native American reservations.

With more than a billion people, China is the largest new market in the world. Our administration has negotiated an agreement which will open China's markets to American products made on American soil, everything from corn to chemicals to computers. Today the House has affirmed that agreement.

We will be exporting, however, more than our products. By this agreement, we will also export more of one of our most cherished values, economic freedom.

Bringing China into the WTO and normalizing trade will strengthen those who fight for the environment, for labor standards, for human rights, for the rule of law.

For China, this agreement will clearly increase the benefits of cooperation and the costs of confrontation.

America, of course, will continue to defend our interests, but at this stage in China's development we will have more positive influence with an outstretched hand than with a clenched fist.

The House today has affirmed that belief.

Now I have spoken personally to many, many members of Congress. I have heard their concerns and those of their constituents. I know this, for many, was a difficult vote. Decisions like this one test our deepest beliefs, they challenge our hopes and they call forth our fears.

Though China may be changing, we all know it remains a one-party state, that it still denies people the rights of free speech and religious expression. We know that trade alone will not bring freedom to China or peace to the world.

That's why permanent normal trade relations must also signal our commitment to permanent change. America will keep pressing to protect our security and to advance our values. The vote today is a big boost to both efforts, for the more China liberalizes its economy, the more it will liberate the potential of its people to work without restraint, to live without fear.

In January, I pledged an all-out effort to take this important step. I want to thank everyone who has joined in it. I want to express special gratitude to Speaker Hastert for his leadership, to Congressman Archer and Congressman Rangel of the Ways and Means Committee.

I also want to acknowledge Congressman Levin and Congressman Bereuter, who authored a provision on human rights that improves this bill and strengthens our ability to stand up for our values.

I thank all the others who spoke out for this action, including all our former presidents, all the former secretaries of state, defense, trade ministers, other Cabinet members, all the military leaders. I thank those who work for human rights and the rule of law who spoke out for this legislation.

And of course I want to thank all those who worked in this administration: Secretary Daley for spearheading our campaign, Charlene Barshefsky and Gene Sperling for their negotiation of the agreement, Steve Ricchetti here in the White House, and Sandy Berger and all the others who worked so hard for this agreement here.

I appreciate what everyone has done.

Today, the House has taken an important step for the kind of future I think we all want for our children, for an America that will be more prosperous and more secure, for a China that is more open to our products and more respectful of the rule of law at home and abroad.

The House has spoken and now the eyes of the world turn toward the United States Senate. I am confident it too will act swiftly to advance these interests. I will be speaking with many senators in the days ahead to ensure that we continue to move ahead to get this done as promptly as possible. This is one of the most important votes the Senate will face in this session. I hope we can build on our momentum on this issue and on other pressing priorities as well. I still believe that Congress can act to add voluntary prescription drug coverage to Medicare, to invest more in our children's education, to pass the legislation to invest in these American markets here at home, to pass the common sense gun safety legislation, to raise the minimum wage.

Again, I thank the House and I look forward to working with the Congress in the days ahead.

This is a good day for America. In 10 years from now we will look back on this day and be glad we did this. We will see that we have given ourselves a chance to build the kind of future we want.

This is a good economic agreement because we get all the economic benefits of lowered tariffs and lowered access to the Chinese market. We get new protections against dumping of products in our own markets. What we have granted is full membership in the World Trade Organization, which brings China into a rule-based international system.

But I have said many times, and I'd just like to say once more, to me the most important benefit of all is that we have given ourselves and the Chinese a chance, not a guarantee, but a chance to build a future in the Asia-Pacific region for the next 50 years very different from the last 50.

We fought three wars in that part of the world. A lot of Americans died for freedom, and a lot of sacrifice should not go unredeemed. We owe it to them, to their children and to our children and grandchildren to give the world a chance to build a better and a different future. We have taken a big step toward giving them that chance today.

Thank you very much.

SHAW: Now to our Sr. White House correspondent John King.

John, as the president goes back into the Oval Office, what does this mean for this for the second president of the United States, and moreover, what does it mean for U.S.-Chinese relations?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the administration, Bernie, approached this on two tracks essentially, looking at the impact on the world stage in terms of the president's prestige, U.S. trade and U.S. national security interests, the second track being domestic politics here at home. Certainly, this is a victory for the president on a very controversial issue. On the key issue of U.S. relations with China, the president said it himself. It is his view now -- and this is a different view than he had when he first ran for presidency, but it is his view now in his final, in his eighth year in office, that the best way to deal with China, despite the differences, is, in his words, "with an outstretched hand, not a clenched fists." This a victory for president's policy of engagement. He also cast this as a victory for the U.S. economy. The test of course in the weeks ahead. This still must go through the United States Senate. The White House government wary now, watching to see how the Chinese government will react, hoping it doesn't do anything to change the support this legislation has right now in the U.S. Senate.

SHAW: John King at the White House.

WOODRUFF: And now we go back to Beijing and our bureau chief there, Rebecca MaCkinnon.

Rebecca, we're sorry we interrupt you just a moment ago to go to the president. You heard I'm sure president Clinton talk about china moving toward a rule of law with this the new trade arrangement. He talked about China even moving toward liberalizing politically. What is the Chinese reaction going to be?

REBECCA MACKINNON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, what we're going hear, I think, in the coming day's days is a focus on the economic benefits. This is certainly a major boost for economic reformers, such as Premier Zhu Rongji, who's been working very hard to reform China's economy over the past two years, to get rid of loss- making, state-run enterprises that make things nobody wants, to reform the banking system and this kind of thing. The immediate benefits will go people like that, who've been opposed by many conservatives in the government, who are worrying about China's economy losing its socialist nature, who don't want to see too much private enterprise taking control over the country, this kind of thing.

But for the long term, however, the fact that economic reform has won out over economic conservatives is considered over the long term a victory for more politically reformist elements in the government. Now we're not going to see dissidents released from jail in the coming months. We're not going to see a change to censorship policies in the coming months. We're not going to see an end to crackdowns against religious movements in the coming months.

But what many people I've been speaking to have been telling me, even dissidents who are under house arrest, even people who have had their books censored recently, they're saying that over the long term, the fact that the private economy will be taking a greater center stage, the fact that China is going to have to live up to international commitments, rule of law commitments, that this is going to loosen the Chinese governments control over the Chinese people in general -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, CNN's Beijing bureau chief Rebecca MaCKinnon.

Thank you, Rebecca.

Well, this China trade bill has wide-ranging implications, as you've been hearing, for U.S. policy toward China.

CNN's national security correspondent David Ensor has more on the possible effect of the vote on the U.S.-China military relationship. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the next few decades, China's military could become the greatest national security threat to the United States, and the vote in Congress does not change that. Though China's huge armed forces have relatively out-of-date equipment, Beijing has ambitious long-term plans, to build its power on land, in the air and at sea.

But experts say the yes vote on trade makes a peaceful relationship with the next emerging superpower much more likely.

RICHARD SOLOMON, U.S. INSTITUTE OF PEACE: This leadership in Beijing, I think, is deeply divided over how to deal with the United States. Are we the bad guys? Are we willing to help them in their reform and their emergence as a major power? By passing the permanent trade legislation and then by working to get them in the World Trade Organization, it seems to me we put ourselves on the side of the reform elements in China.

ENSOR: The vote means U.S.-Chinese military to military exchanges planned this summer will go ahead. They were only recently resumed after a hiatus because of the U.S. bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. The vote improves chances for progress in U.S.- Chinese talks, where Washington seeks Chinese promises to stop selling missile technology to Iran, Pakistan and others.

By improving U.S.-Chinese ties, analysts say it may also reduce chances of a war in the Taiwan Strait, and it makes continued Chinese help more likely on curbing North Korea's ambitions to become a nuclear weapons power.

(on camera): China's wealth and military might are expected to grow in coming years, and the importance, analysts say, of a better relationship with China for U.S. national security will grow right along with them.

David Ensor, CNN, Capitol Hill.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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