Verbatim, as delivered
May 1, 2007
China is palpably one of the greatest civilizations on the planet. We stand in awe of its long history, its abundant traditions, and its distinguished culture. For centuries, its massive economic potential was not fully realized. But thanks in no small part to the Open Door policy of the United States that allowed China access to our markets and our investment, the “sleeping giant” arose and came into its own.
Now the fruits of the Chinese people’s intense labor are coming back to them manifold. China’s GDP has tripled – that’s right, tripled – in the past ten years. It is again expected to grow by double-digits this year and China will soon overtake Germany as the world’s third-largest economy.
We support China’s emergence as a world power and look forward to partnering with China to strengthen the international system. But as we work together on areas of common interest, we cannot sweep vital issues under the rug. As our eminent former Secretary of State Dean Acheson said over a half a century ago in 1949: “We will not help the Chinese or ourselves by basing our policy on wishful thinking.”
The Chinese government and I part ways in two substantial areas that speak to the very nature of the civilization China wants to project to the world. The first is related to its foreign and military policy and the second to its internal actions.
Beijing’s foreign policy has come a long way. Border disputes with India and with Russia are now relatively quiescent. China is crucial in the Six Party Talks working to de-nuclearize North Korea. This process serves as a model: it is possible for the United States and China to cooperate effectively as partners to promote stability.
But I was deeply concerned by the unannounced and alarming anti-satellite test China launched in January and Beijing’s initial refusal to acknowledge their de-stabilizing action. Responsible governments do not send missiles to destroy space satellites, littering the atmosphere with dangerous debris. If China wishes to be a partner with the United States, it must be more judicious and transparent as it builds its military capabilities.
With regard to Taiwan, there are inexorable ties that make the situation more complicated than a simplistic “independence versus One China” paradigm. Taiwan has invested more than $100 billion on the mainland, where nearly a million Taiwanese actually live. Every time I go to Beijing or Taipei, I carry the message that the impasse must be resolved diplomatically and peacefully over the long term. The alternative is potentially catastrophic. China must not rattle its saber, but Taiwan must not invite China’s ire through provocation.
I am unnerved by China’s overtures to regimes that the United States views as repressive, globally dangerous, or sponsors of terror. Why is China furthering its ties with Iran, a country with nuclear ambitions and an unstable president who denies the Holocaust? Why does China continue to support the brutal military rulers of Burma, which prove daily they have no interest in the welfare of their people? And why has China become the largest weapons supplier to the government of Sudan, the perpetrator of an unspeakable genocide in Darfur? The answer, of course, is economic growth, or more precisely, China’s need for oil to feed its ravenous energy appetite. This pursuit cannot be blind to all other factors.
China must act ethically – in international relations and on the environment. China and the United States, the two largest polluters, should work together on a binding agreement for carbon emission limits. It is the only real way to fight climate change.
Within China, too, troubling issues remain. We acknowledge that as a developing nation, the reckoning of winners and losers is uneven. By the government’s own admission, there were some 87,000 protests in China last year, sparked by disparities along the rocky road to development. We commend the emphasis Beijing is placing on ensuring everyone gains from the unprecedented growth. This means establishing and adhering to real property rights, improving health care, bolstering working conditions, setting migrant-worker practices, and raising standards of living.
It also means, however, respecting basic human rights and permitting freedom of expression.
Last week, the Chinese detained four Americans protesting for freedom for the Tibetan people – a salient issue as next year’s Beijing Olympics approach. China has charted a route for the Olympic torch that brings it to the top of Mount Everest, on Tibet’s horizon, as well as to Taipei. It is outrageous that China is using the very symbol of international unity and brotherhood to further grind down the Tibetans and the Taiwanese, who simply want to live their lives without interference from Beijing.
I hope China also uses the games as a chance to look inward. Beyond the waving flags and the parading athletes at the opening ceremony, journalists and protestors will be looking to see if China is on the right track with the treatment of its own people. Initial signs are discouraging. A report released by Amnesty International this week says that Beijing is using the upcoming games to expand the repressive practice of detaining people without a trial, to place activists on house arrest and to limit severely the topics domestic media are permitted to address.
Before such pre-Olympic crackdowns become truly widespread, let me assert: If ever there was a time for China to get its own house in order, this is it. The Olympics are a golden opportunity for China to take a new turn, a turn to true leadership that entails responsible behavior at home and abroad.
And we must craft a strong approach to China – beyond wishful thinking, to a substantive strategy, a defined dialogue, and – most importantly – a mature relationship.