Stanley O. Roth
Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs
U.S. Department of State
Speech on the Occasion of the 20th Anniversary of the Carter Administration's Decision to Establish Diplomatic Relations with the People's Republic of China
New York, New York, December 15, 1998
Let me begin by thanking our hosts, the America-China Society, the National Committee on United States-China Relations, and the Council on Foreign Relations for inviting me to represent the Administration on this special occasion.
It is a great honor to be here alongside the pioneers -- The Wise Men, if you will -- of U.S.-China relations. Each of these four men, as well as those in absentia, played an invaluable role in the establishment of relations between the United States and the People's Republic of China, one of the most significant diplomatic developments of the second half of the twentieth century. Their achievements were built on the efforts of scores of Chinese and American professional diplomats, whose hard work and dedication brought normalization to fruition.
As we pay tribute to these individuals, we should also recognize the bipartisan spirit with which this achievement was realized in the United States; with Democrats finishing what Republicans started, the establishment of relations with China stands as a model of bipartisan cooperation.
While I can not adequately do justice to the history in the few minutes I have been allotted to speak, I would be remiss if I did not say a few words about the contributions of the four men on the dais.
Under President Nixon's leadership, Dr. Kissinger conceptualized the imperative of coming to terms with China and advanced a vision of constructive U.S.-P.R.C. relations which has been the foundation for the relationship for the past two decades.
Secretary Vance picked up the China mantle from Dr. Kissinger. In close partnership with one of my illustrious predecessors, Richard Holbrooke, and with the Brezinski NSC, Secretary Vance developed a strategy for normalization in the early days of the Carter Administration, which culminated -- seven years after Kissinger's dramatic secret visit to Beijing -- in the realization of Nixon and Kissinger's earlier vision.
As the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State under Holbrooke, Ambassador Gleysteen was one of the unsung heroes of State's China operation. China-born, and by then one of the U.S. Government's most respected China experts, Bill Gleysteen played a crucial role in putting together the normalization package that was ultimately implemented.
Ambassador Woodcock was the force for normalization on the ground in Beijing in his capacity as chief of our liaison office in 1977 and 1978. A savvy negotiator with the credibility and clout in Washington necessary to move the normalization process forward, Ambassador Woodcock was uniquely qualified to be the Administration's point man for the negotiations. Indeed the durability of the document he hammered out with China twenty years ago to this day attests to the considerable skill with which he did his job.
The closing paragraph of the U.S. statement issued at the time reads, "The United States believes that the establishment of diplomatic relations with the People's Republic will contribute to the welfare of the American people, to the stability of Asia where the United States has major security and economic interests, and to the peace of the entire world." These words are as true today as they were in 1978, for the welfare of the American people, the stability of Asia, and the peace of the entire world are still what's at stake in our relationship with China.
If anything, China's remarkable economic achievements, increasing diplomatic prominence and growing military strength over the course of the past decade have made the imperative of constructing a cooperative relationship with China all the more pressing.
In recognition of this reality, the Clinton Administration has worked to facilitate through a strategy of engagement the emergence of a China that is stable and non-aggressive; that cooperates with us to build a secure regional and international order; that adheres to international rules of conduct; that has an open and vibrant economy; and that works to protect the global environment.
Engagement, as Secretary Albright has often noted, is not the same as endorsement; it is not about turning a blind eye to practices at odds with our principles or about forsaking democratic ideals in the name of political expediency. Engagement is quite simply a way to move beyond the sterile shouting match which had characterized U.S.-China relations since Tiananmen by establishing an overall strategic framework based upon the growing intersection of shared interests, thereby increasing opportunities for cooperation and improving the prospects for resolving differences.
This strategy, and the political will to implement it on both sides, has set U.S.-China relations back on the track laid by "the wise men" in the 1970s. Ambassador Li, who as Vice Foreign Minister in the mid-1990s remembers well just how dangerously frayed the U.S.-China relationship had become, would undoubtedly agree that recent progress in the bilateral relationship has been nothing short of spectacular. The exchange of state visits between President Clinton and President Jiang personified this progress, but it also provided momentum for movement forward on issues of mutual concern. It also helped create a positive environment for the resumption of discussions between the P.R.C. and Taiwan. We have seen welcome developments in cross-Strait relations as the Chinese on both sides of the Strait seek to resolve their differences in ways that promote peace and stability in the region.
If time permitted, I would recite a long and impressive list of accomplishments in several different policy areas, including non-proliferation and human rights, to demonstrate just how far the U.S.-China relationship has come. But more profound than any convention signed or agreement reached has been the qualitative change in the nature of our dialogue with China. Whereas in the past, our interaction was all too often characterized by the rigid recitation of talking points, now U.S. and Chinese officials engage in a genuine and candid discourse on some of the most pressing geopolitical issues presently confronting our two nations.
That these substantive consultations serve both U.S. and Chinese interests has been borne out by our solid cooperation on North Korea. Over the course of the past year, the P.R.C. and the U.S. have become partners in the promotion of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. China worked closely with the United States to bring North Korea to the negotiating table last fall and now sits with us at the four-party talks in the common pursuit of a permanent peace.
China and the U.S. have worked similarly well together on South Asia, with both nations seeking to roll back escalating tensions on the Indian subcontinent. When India and Pakistan tested nuclear weapons last May, China and the United States cooperated closely at the meeting of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (P-5) which China chaired.
The caliber of our strategic cooperation has thus improved substantially. The twin challenges now, as we try to give substance to the notion announced last year of moving towards a constructive strategic partnership, are to broaden the number of areas in which we can identify common cause and to establish a mechanism for moving from shared interest to joint action. It is one thing for the United States and China to work independently towards the same goals; it is quite another for the two powers to make joint efforts in favor of a particular end.
But even as the U.S. and China find new ways to move forward with strategic cooperation, we must also make progress on resolving difficult problems. Human rights is an important case in point. Despite the progress achieved in the wake of the two summits, the Administration is deeply concerned about the recent arrests and prosecution of prominent democracy advocates. In the Information Age, the wealth of any nation lies in its people; if China is to reach its full potential for growth and greatness, it must unleash the full power of its people to speak, publish, associate and worship without fear. In short, resumption of political reform in China is, in my view, a necessary precondition for successful modernization.
To touch upon only one more problem area, the U.S. and China also face a whole coterie of contentious trade issues. The U.S. trade deficit with China was increasing dramatically even when China was growing around 9% per year. With the deterioration in China's growth prospects, the gap is now widening.
Consequently, establishing a more balanced trading relationship is a key issue in U.S.-China relations. The U.S. has one of the most open markets in the world and in no way seeks to limit the import of Chinese goods. But for this openness to be politically and economically sustainable, China needs to amend its restrictive trade practices and provide U.S. firms increased access to its market. The most prudent way to make this happen is to get China into the WTO on a sound, commercially viable basis, and we hope that China's leaders will continue to work with us in active pursuit of this goal.
As I pondered the most appropriate way to close my remarks this evening, I thought that perhaps the most fitting way to commemorate the establishment of relations twenty years ago would be to suggest a vision of where we will be twenty years down the road. At the fortieth anniversary of the December 15th communique, when I sit further down the dais listening to how U.S.-China policy is currently being managed, what will my successor -- many times removed -- have to say?
As I answer my own question, I am reminded of a conversation I had with Ambassador Woodcock on my first trip to China eighteen years ago. I was then a staffer with Congressman Solarz, and as a Middle East expert knew virtually nothing about China. At the conclusion of a full day of meetings and briefings, Ambassador Woodcock pulled a much younger and thinner version of me aside and said, "Young man, I strongly suggest that you ignore everything you just heard. Something unexpected happens in China roughly every ten years, and so everything you heard today will probably turn out to be wrong."
Eighteen years later, Ambassador Woodcock is still calling me "young man," so some things don't change. But his advice remains sound. I have therefore decided to limit myself to what I hope my successor will be able to say. On the fortieth anniversary of the Carter Administration's establishment of diplomatic relations with the P.R.C., I hope the Assistant Secretary of State will tell us:
- That China is not only stable, non-aggressive, and prosperous but is home to a vibrant and creative civil society.
- That a robust trilateral relationship among the three major regional powers -- the U.S., Japan, and China -- has ushered in a new era of regional peace and cooperation.
- That China is a member in good stead of the WTO and the MTCR and is a valued member of all other major international organizations.
- That advanced U.S. environmental technology is helping nearly two billion Chinese breathe cleaner air, drink cleaner water, and live healthier and more productive lives.
This future, I submit, is well within our reach. It is, in fact, the logical extension of the path painstakingly forged by these wise men several decades ago. Virtually everyone assembled here today is working to bring such a future to fruition, not just through government service but through academia, business, journalism and development work. I implore all of you to continue the important work of moving the U.S.-China relationship forward. Mindful not only of the achievements but also of the mistakes of the past and recognizing the constraints of the present, together we can -- and must -- work to maximize the possibilities for a brighter future.
[end of document]
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