Clinton: What's At Stake In China

On June 19, President Clinton sat down with BUSINESS WEEK White House Correspondent Richard S. Dunham and members of other news organizations to discuss his trip to China and geopolitical and economic issues elsewhere. Here are highlights:

Q: How have the East Asian economic crisis, the nuclear standoff in South Asia, and congressional hearings about alleged Chinese involvement in American elections and technology transfers affected the summit's agenda?

A: The first two matters have made the importance of the trip even greater.... The Chinese have tried to be constructive in working with us on the whole Asian economic crisis. And if you look at the Indian can't imagine any scenario in which we can unravel the difficulties between India and Pakistan without China.

Now, as to the congressional investigations, the only one that I think has any bearing...on our relationship with China is the inquiries into whether any elements of the Chinese government attempted to influence the last election by channeling money into my campaign or the campaigns of various members of Congress.

As I have always said, that is a serious issue. I have raised it with the Chinese, from the President on down. They have vigorously denied it. And I have asked them to cooperate in every way with the investigation that we have to conduct into this--that is, "we" the executive branch, and "we"...the Congress. But that doesn't in any way undermine the trip's importance or need for a partnership against the background of the economic and security issues you mentioned.

Q: China has been hinting that it might not be able to hold the line on currency devaluation. How worried are you about that?

A: First of all, I think it's clear to everyone that they don't want to devalue and they've been taking extraordinary actions to avoid devaluation. And I think in so doing they have helped to contain and to stabilize the situation in Asia. And they deserve credit for that. And I personally appreciate it....

The best thing we can do is to work with them, with Japan, and with others to try to change the conditions so that the pressure to devalue will decrease, rather than increase.

Q: Your Administration has aggressively pushed American companies and products in the global marketplace. Is there a danger that an emphasis on commercialism could cloud national security or human-rights interests?

A: I think they are two different issues. It only undermines human rights if you basically just do it with a wink and a nod don't care about human rights or other issues of liberty or human decency. This is not just with China, but generally. On balance, the evidence is that economic prosperity and economic openness lead to greater freedom and a higher quality of life across the board.

Now on the national security issues, very often these questions require careful judgment by people who know all the facts.... And I think the system has worked well for the United States and has advanced our interests without undermining our security. I've not seen any evidence of a national security interest that has been compromised.

Q: Often, there are delegations of chief executives accompanying trips of this kind, but it doesn't appear that there will be this time. Is there a reason for that?

A: We are going to have a U.S.-China business meeting in Shanghai, and a lot of American CEOs are going to be there.... But, frankly, since this is the first trip an American President has made in quite a while, and since there are issues other than economic issues that have to be front and center, I thought it was better this time just to take our delegation.

Q: Asia and Russia face economic crises, but a proposal to pump $18 billion into the International Monetary Fund is languishing on the Hill. Social conservatives want to add antiabortion language, and House Speaker Newt Gingrich has threatened to hold it up. How important is it to pass an IMF bill quickly?

A: The economic trouble in Asia has made it more important in two ways--one symbolic and one practical. Symbolically, it's more important because the United States needs to be seen doing everything possible to be a responsible player in the international economy and because we have a huge stake in what happens in Asia. A big percentage of our exports go to Asia; a significant percentage of our own economic growth has been fueled by that export market.

There is also a practical reason. So many countries got in trouble at the same time that the IMF is going to need the money pretty soon. We can't expect to lead the world when all these huge interests are at stake and then say: "I'm sorry, there are 15 or 20 members of the Republican majority in the House who have said that if this Administration won't change its family planning policy, then they're prepared to see us lose our vote in the United Nations [for failing to pay dues] and have no influence over the International Monetary Fund."

This is part of a dangerous move toward both unilateralism and isolationism that you can also see in some of the budget proposals for foreign assistance. Some members of the House appear to want to sanction everybody in the world who doesn't agree with us, and not invest in anybody who does agree with us.

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