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White House Briefing on Clinton-Jiang Meeting

Transcript: September 11 White House Briefing on Clinton-Jiang Meeting
(Leaders discussed WTO accession, arms control, Tibet, Taiwan)

Following is the White House transcript of a September 11 press briefing in Auckland, New Zealand by National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, National Economic Advisor Gene Sperling, and White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart:

(begin transcript)

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary
(Auckland, New Zealand)

For Immediate Release
September 11, 1999

PRESS BRIEFING BY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR SANDY BERGER,
NATIONAL ECONOMIC ADVISOR GENE SPERLING,
AND PRESS SECRETARY JOE LOCKHART

Sky City Hotel
Auckland, New Zealand

7:25 P.M. (L)

MR. LOCKHART: Hello, everyone. Welcome to our first briefing in Auckland. Glad you could all be here, and we didn't tear you away from too much wine tasting. Mr. Plante, sorry, that's excluding Mr. Plante.

Joining us today is the President's National Security Advisor Samuel Berger, who will read out the bilat that was just concluded; and Gene Sperling, the President's National Economic Advisor. And then I'll come out after they're done if there are any domestic questions.

MR. BERGER: Let me generally talk about the meeting that just completed between President Clinton and President Jiang and their delegations. The President was very pleased with this meeting, as were the rest of his national security team, economic team. It was -- I would describe it as a very productive, friendly, non-polemical, and quite comprehensive meeting between the two leaders.

It is clear that these are two leaders who, after six and a half years, have learned to deal with each other, through good times and bad. And as a result, I would consider the relationship between our countries now back on track, with, of course, many challenges still facing us.

Let me talk more specifically about the discussion. The President began, indicating to President Jiang that he was very interested in restoring our relations to the path that they have been on in the past where we have dealt with problems in a candid way and we've dealt with issues that we have common interest in a cooperative way.

He started with WTO. I'll let Gene talk about that in more detail. And he urged President Jiang to resume negotiations on WTO and said that he thinks we could achieve a -- that we could work through the issues that remain between us.

He talked about his awareness of the economic challenges not only in the region, but in China; that he'd been impressed by the way the Chinese have dealt with those issues and believed that WTO -- a successful WTO agreement would strengthen China and make it economically -- put it in an economically improved situation.

Second, the President expressed the hope that the United States and China can resume the range of arms control negotiations that we have -- the arms control agenda, I think the President put it -- that we have had over the past six years: ratification of CTBT, the Chemical Weapons Convention; he mentioned the North Korean missile tests, problems in South Asia, resuming military-to-military exchanges and discussing a national missile defense, which is an issue of interest to China.

Third, the President said that he hoped that we could schedule another round of human rights discussions to deal with such issues as Tibet, political and religious freedom, freedom of expression. The President said we've had very candid discussions about these issues in the past and I believe we should resume those discussions.

Fourth, the President expressed a hope that we could resume our dialogue on energy matters, and on issues of growth and energy -- climate change, in particular -- and finding a way for the developing countries to chart a different energy path than the developed countries have charted over the last 50 years, one that is less destructive of the environment.

Finally, the President raised Taiwan. He said that the statement by President Lee had made things more difficult for both China and the United States, but that the United States had immediately reaffirmed our commitment to a one-China policy. He, however, said that to be candid with President Jiang he must say, and Jiang must understand, that if Jiang were to resort to military force, there would be grave consequences in the United States.

He urged China to get back to the -- China and Taiwan -- to the cross-straits dialogue, and said that our policy would continue as it has been since the presidency of Richard Nixon, to be based on the three fundamental pillars of the one-China policy, a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue, and the cross-straits dialogue.

Jiang then started in reverse order with Taiwan. He said that is the most important of the issues the President raised. He reaffirmed that they wanted a peaceful resolution based on one China, two systems, which is their formulation of the relationship. But he also repeated the traditional Chinese position that if unilateral actions were taken towards independence they would not renounce the possibility of force. President Jiang said that he has tried to promote cross-straits dialogue and in his view, President Lee had made that more difficult.

He raised with the President the question of arms sales, and particularly the most recent arms sales to Taiwan, and urged the President to discontinue those arm sales. The President said, I know that you disagree with us on arm sales to Taiwan, but we will continue to comply with the Taiwan Relations Act, under which we, on a case-by-case basis, provide defensive arms for Taiwan.

Jiang ended this by saying, you know, I'm not someone who likes war, but 1.2 billion Chinese people are concerned about what has happened in Taiwan and he believes it's very important to resolve the issues.

On WTO I will simply say, and let Gene fill in the details, that they agreed to resume negotiations towards a WTO agreement. And there was some rather significant discussion of that.

On the agenda of issues that the President raised in terms of human rights and arms control and those issues that I listed earlier, President Jiang said that on all bilateral questions we can work together in a positive fashion, thereby, in my judgment, suggesting that over time we can and will be able to resume our discussions on issues ranging from arms control to human rights.

He specifically singled out working for stability on the Korean Peninsula, something they have a great interest in, as do we; the arms race in South Asia, another area where we have a common interest; and perhaps one or two others. He made reference to the Falun Gong issue, described it as a cult, said he did not want it to affect our bilateral relations. I think the meeting was summed up at the end by President Jiang, who, as the meeting was ending, said that he cherishes our personal friendship, and appreciates the achievements that he and President Clinton have made together. And he hopes that they will have a wider road for future progress.

So I think, all in all, for a 60-minute meeting this accomplished what we hoped -- which was, as I say, to get the relationship back on track; to resume the WTO negotiations; to get a strong indication from the Chinese that they're prepared to resume discussions with us on a range of other issues, from human rights to arms control. I would say the general atmosphere of the meeting was productive and harmonious, and as I said before, non-polemical.

Let me let Gene talk a little bit more about the WTO piece of this.

MR. SPERLING: About two weeks ago, President Clinton sent a letter to President Jiang asking for a resumption of negotiations on China-WTO as soon as possible. That letter led to some technical discussions, taking stock of where we are, over the weekend, with USTR's Bob Cassidy and Bob Novak. At the APEC trade ministerial, Charlene Barshefsky had a meeting with her counterpart, Minister Shi, in which they again simply had a very basic discussion on the need to begin identifying outstanding issues and the importance of working towards an agreement in time to allow possibility of China to enter the WTO this year.

We're very pleased with the meeting today. Our hope had been that today's meeting would lead to the resumption of serious negotiations and that it would lead to the resumption of serious negotiations immediately. And that was the result. And the result of the meeting was, indeed, to bring forth the resumption of negotiations expeditiously. In fact, both Presidents asked their ministers -- Ambassador Barshefsky, Minister Shi -- to meet, to begin meeting as early as tomorrow, as both of them are here, and to begin the process of seeing what progress could be made and to identify what issues would still be outstanding. There was no timeline set, but I think through the discussions was a serious recognition of the fact that sooner is better than later, and that there is a need to move this process forward in a time that makes it viable for China to enter the WTO this year.

With that, why don't I just stop there, and Sandy and I can take more questions.

Q: Sandy, was there any discussion of East Timor in the meeting, any reaction by Jiang to Clinton's statement?

MR. BERGER: No. I mean, I expect that there will be further discussions over the next two or three days. But there was no specific discussion. I know the President wants to talk to President Jiang about East Timor, but given the 60-minute meeting, it didn't come up at this meeting. It will come up during the week.

Q: What's the volume of the arms sales that were suspended by the President today? And could you tell us what's involved in the packages?

MR. BERGER: Well, there are two different packages. One is official arms sales, government-financed arms sales. There are about $40 million in foreign military sales in that package. There is about $400 million in the pipeline of commercial military sales.

Now, let me hasten to say that it's very difficult to ascertain exactly how much of that, at this point, will be affected by the action today. We should probably have better figures over the next day or so -- how much of that has been delivered, how much of that is in a position in which it can be stopped. But I would imagine that it would be hundreds of millions of dollars.

Q: Sandy, the President said there could be a development in the next couple of days on U.N. operations in East Timor. What did he mean by that?

MR. BERGER: Well, I think the President's statement reflected less what's going on on the ground, which is not terribly encouraging, than statements that have been made publicly and privately by various Indonesian officials. General Wiranto indicated publicly that he could -- might in the future accept the deployment of a U.N. force. We've had further conversations with General Wiranto and others. So there have been -- number one.

Number two, I think there has been quite a strong international reaction to what is happening in East Timor over the last 72 hours. I think the international pressure is building. The actions we've taken, I think, have helped to catalyze that. So I think -- again, I think on the ground the situation continues to be unacceptable and ultimately that is what will determine whether there's progress -- that is, whether or not the Indonesians either, as a result of General Wiranto and the U.N. delegation, go into Timor today -- are prepared to act promptly to take control of the situation, or whether, alternatively, they're prepared to see some sort of an international presence. That really is the ultimate test that -- I think the statements, the public statements, the private statements, are useful, but we've also heard them before.

Q: Have you heard from that U.N. delegation? They're in Dili today, aren't they?

MR. BERGER: No. I just checked before I came out here, and I think they're still there. They're about to leave and depart.

Q: Sandy, is it true that on Wednesday the five-member delegation was asked to outline a plan for the Indonesian government of what a peacekeeping force would look like and what role it would play?

MR. BERGER: I'm sorry?

Q: Is it true that the five-member delegation was asked in meetings on Wednesday with Indonesian officials to outline their plans for peacekeepers?

MR. BERGER: I don't know, John, if that's true or not. I know that there has been a good deal of work that has gone on in consultation with the Australians, with us and others about what such a peacekeeping force might look like. But I have not had any briefing, directly or indirectly, from the team. I imagine they will go back to New York and they will report to the Security Council or report to the Secretary General.

Q: Which subjects did they dwell on for the longest period of time? MR. BERGER: I think WTO and Taiwan. Maybe a close third is just the general resumption of relations, the kind of ability to deal with issues ranging from their signing the Human Rights covenant to MTCR, to North Korea. And this conversation, this dialogue -- again, on issues we disagree on, issues we agree on -- has been more or less suspended over the past several months. And I think it is unstuck.

Q: What about the North Korean issue --

Q: Was there any discussion of the bombing, the NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy?

MR. BERGER: It was raised by -- it was referenced, I would say, by President Jiang in what I would call quite a non-polemical way.

Q: -- North Korean issue -- anything about North Korean missile launch?

MR. BERGER: Yes. Not specifically, but generally. That is, they -- both President Clinton and President Jiang specifically talked about one of the issues where we have a strong interest in cooperation being stability on the Korean Peninsula. That is a fancy way of saying the North Korean nuclear missile program.

Q: Regarding Taiwan, Sandy, you mentioned -- indicated the difficulty that President Lee's statement made to U.S.-China relations. Is it blaming Lee Teng-hui on what he said?

MR. BERGER: I'll let the statement speak for itself.

Q: Sandy, on -- or maybe Gene might want to take this -- on WTO -- could you tell us whether President Jiang indicated that the concessions that were outlined during the April meeting were still in place -- in other words, whether China is picking up these negotiations exactly where they were in April, and whether you defined in the course of the discussions what the areas of disagreement still are?

MR. SPERLING: What was very positive about the discussion was not only the resumption of negotiations, but that, rather than just leaving the meeting with a vague sense that negotiations needed to start sometime in the future, that they would proceed immediately, starting as early as a meeting tomorrow.

But there was very little from either President Clinton or President Jiang in the sense of seeking to actually negotiate the specifics at that point. I think they both recognized that they want their respective trade negotiators to see how much progress they can make and identify those issues and then come back with us. Everyone understands in any negotiation going forward, no one ever is going to get everything they want. There were certainly issues that needed to be resolved and we'll leave that negotiation to Ambassador Shi -- I mean, Minister Shi and Ambassador Barshefsky.

Q: Is there a sense right now that you've narrowed the issues enough that it might possibly be resolved in the two or three days you have here in Auckland? Or is there a sense that this is something that's going to take weeks?

MR. SPERLING: The truth, David, is that I think up to this point there has not been that type of substantive negotiation yet. I think that the talks so far were really taking stock of where things were. So I would not want to try to project.

I think one comment the President did make is that whatever issues are out there he said won't be any easier to resolve a week from now or a month from now or a year from now, and that it made the most sense for the two sides to begin the process of trying to come to a satisfactory commercially viable agreement.

Q: Gene, you said it could be done by the end of the year. But is it feasible to think that China could participate in the talks in Seattle in November?

MR. SPERLING: All I would say at this point is understanding the clocks -- one clock is the end of the year in the November ministerial; and the congressional clock, to the extent that our goal would be not simply an agreement, but the permanent waiver that would allow congressional acceptance of the agreement. Both of those clocks suggest that the sooner that agreement can be reached, the greater the chances that China can enter the WTO this year.

Considering that this really will be the first time that there's been substantive negotiations in over four months, I think that there's enough issues that are on the table that I would not have significant expectations over the next several days. And I don't want to try to do a timeline.

It is the case, though, that we do have an opportunity to make progress here. There's an opportunity for further discussions with both leaders and both teams here. And I think the goal that both Presidents have was simply to see what progress could be made, and to begin the process of identifying what outstanding issues will have to be resolved.

Q: Gene, following the logic of that statement that these issues become harder to negotiate the longer you wait, does it --

MR. SPERLING: I think the President's comment was that they don't get any easier.

Q: But following that logic, does the administration regret not closing a deal when Zhu Rongji was in Washington at that time, when it apparently was within reach? And could you try another bite at the apple with David's question of whether the deal that existed at that time is now the starting point, or whether the Chinese have changed their terms, or, for that matter, the United States has changed its terms?

MR. SPERLING: As to your first question, significant progress had been made in April, but there were some very serious issues that had not yet been resolved and it was our feeling that we could make progress and come to a satisfactory agreement. Obviously, unforeseen events took place. In fact, when President Jiang -- the occasion in which he mentioned the bombing was in the sense that that had certainly made it more difficult to resume negotiations over the summer.

So one can never roll the clock back. I think that the reasons that existed for not concluding the deal at that time were ones we feel were legitimate and correct and we're still very hopeful that we can go forward.

And your second question was whether April is the starting point, and the answer there is simply that I just don't think it helps the process of getting agreement here for us to negotiate in public or talk about any aspects of the negotiations. I think we should try to give Ambassador Barshefsky and Minister Shi the most leeway they can have in the room to work this out.

Q: Is the President prepared to wage the battle for permanent MFN status for this, the Congress -- if the negotiators can reach a deal, in this -- I mean, before this Congress goes home at the end of the year?

MR. SPERLING: Yes, absolutely. We have been committed from the start not only to reaching a commercially viable agreement, but having permanent, normal trade relations passed through Congress. We think, we feel that there is significant support for that. There is no doubt that it will not be an easy battle, no one expects that. But the President is very committed to taking whatever efforts are necessary, and both his economic and foreign policy team are committed to taking whatever steps are necessary to pass an agreement, if a commercially viable agreement can be reached.

Q: Sandy, -- speculation that the President and Jiang Zemin might meet again in Christ Church when the President goes there for the official visit and President Jiang is concluding his state visit. Is that under consideration at all?

MR. BERGER: There has been no discussion of that, as far as far as I'm aware. But these two men, along with their 17, I believe, colleagues will be in a small room with Gene Sperling for the next two days -- (laughter) -- and I suspect that they will have plenty of time for informal conversations. I mean, one of the real values of these meetings, seriously, is the opportunity for one-on-one discussions, including -- I know the President wants to talk to most of these leaders about Timor.

And maybe I could just quickly preview tomorrow a bit. Before I do that, I should tell you that Monday, the President will meet with Ramos-Horta, who is a, as most of you know, a very well-known Timorese pro-independence activist. Tomorrow, the President will --

Q: What time?

MR. BERGER: At 5:00 p.m. I don't know that you've been invited, but it will be at 5:00 p.m. (Laughter.)

Q: Would you work on it?

MR. BERGER: Him only.

Tomorrow, the President will give a speech to the APEC CEO breakfast. It will be a speech in which the President talks about economics generally. The President will talk about what's happened in this region; the need -- in particular, I think, the really fundamental thrust of this speech -- two of them. One is, a lot of good things have happened economically here in the last year. The region is in better shape than it was when we met last year, but this is not the time to get complacent. A lot of the reforms are not yet completed. It's the time to rededicate, to finish the job. Second, a strong plea for open markets and for a successful Seattle ministerial meeting, which can launch a new round of global WTO negotiations.

He will then meet with President Kim Dae-Jung and Prime Minister Obuchi in a trilateral meeting. I'm sure that the bulk of that meeting will be -- or at least the number one issue will be stability on the Korean Peninsula, the potential North Korean missile test, what actions they can take collectively to try to prevent that test, as well as what actions they might take should the test go forward.

As you know, Ambassador Kartman is in Berlin meeting with the North Koreans now, discussing this issue. But they will also be talking about East Timor, and talking about the economic situation in both South Korea and Japan.

And then the President will also have a bilateral with Prime Minister Putin. This will in many ways key off the conversation he had with President Yeltsin a few days ago. There is a large agenda here -- arms control, START II, START III, national missile defense, ABM treaty, technology transfer, corruption issues, law enforcement cooperation, Russia's economic situation. And this will be the first opportunity the President has had to meet with Prime Minister Putin.

Q: -- can you say whether or not President Jiang understands what the President means when he threatened grave consequences if China were to move against Taiwan -- since this administration won't define it for the American people?

MR. BERGER: Well, this administration and every past administration has not defined that, and I think that ambiguity has served stability well in the Peninsula. I think it is clear that, as we've said, this would be a matter of grave concern. And I think the President made it very clear to President Jiang that he needed to understand that. As I say, President Jiang said, I'm not a person who wants war, I would like a peaceful resolution to this.

Q: You used to talk about a strategic partnership with China. What would you call it now?

MR. BERGER: Well, if you're going to be precise about what we said in the past, it is that we seek to build a strategic partnership. As far as I know, it's been used as an objective, not as a descriptive state of the relationship. We seek to build a strategic partnership. I think that's still an operative phrase.

I would say, listen, we still have plenty of problems between China and the United States. We have fundamentally different political systems. We are at fundamentally different stages of economic development. We have different strategic interests. And so there is a range of issues where we do not agree with each other.

Now, our view has always been that the best way to deal with those issues is to deal with them -- is to engage with the Chinese and get them to sign the comprehensive test ban treaty so they won't test nuclear weapons, for example; or get them to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention, as they've done; or get them to cut off nuclear cooperation with Pakistan.

Now, there are also fairly substantial places where we have areas that our interests converge -- stability on the Korean Peninsula. They don't particularly want a war in the Korean Peninsula; we don't want a war in the Korean Peninsula. South Asia. There are large strategic war and peace issues where our interests also converge. And on those issues, we can work together.

We can't -- it would be very difficult to really solve the problem of North Korea without the cooperation of China. If China is not working in the same direction that we're working in -- if they're not working in conjunction with us, it will be far more difficult to solve that issue.

So, I would say that this is a complex relationship between the most powerful country in the world and the largest country in the world who have a number of -- who have fundamentally different systems and serious disagreements, but who need to try to work through those for their common interests. Q: -- the duration of the trip, will the President make public announcement on cross-strait relations --

MR. BERGER: I'm sorry?

Q: Will he make public statement on cross-strait relations that's unheard of?

MR. BERGER: I still don't understand your question. I understand his question. Is that the same question?

Q: Basically, will the President state that the United States does not support a so-called nation to nation or special state to state relationship?

MR. BERGER: We're not going to comment. What every President, again, since Nixon has done is not to comment, not specifically, on what one country entity says to the other, but rather to state what our position is. Our position is that there is one China, and that the issues between Taiwan and Bejing should be resolved between the two and peacefully through a cross-straits dialogue. That continues to be our position.

We believe that that policy has served the region very well. Taiwan has become democratic, prosperous. They're our sixth largest economic trading partner. The economic activity between Taiwan and China has exploded and our relationship with China has improved. So all three legs of this, or three pieces of this triangle have benefited by this policy that was first articulated back several administrations ago, and we believe it's a good policy.

Q: On East Timor, it sound like things are moving quickly. The President said he would be surprised if there is not a development in a couple of days.

MR. BERGER: You heard what I -- I addressed that question, John, which is to say I think the President was -- I think that reflects less what is happening on the ground than statements that have been made publicly and privately. But we've heard statements before.

Q: Well, actually, I took it to mean that you think that there may be a break in terms of the Indonesian agreement on an international force. Is that --

MR. BERGER: I think that there is growing pressure on Indonesia from the international community. I think they've made some statements which have been slightly more positive. But until I see them either take control of the situation or invite in an international force, then I don't think it's a breakthrough.

Q: Okay -- my real question, which is, is there now more clarity on what a U.S. proposal would be for this force? And is the President taking that to the other APEC leaders --

MR. BERGER: No, I think that there's been a good deal of discussion. At the U.N. -- let me back up. There was always anticipated that there would be a U.N. force in so-called Phase III, which is after the government, the new government of Indonesia recognized the results of the consultation. Obviously, the fighting, the chaos, has made that more urgent. So there's been a fair amount of discussion in the U.N., generally, but more recently there's been a lot of discussion among the Australians and us -- we've had people from CINCPAC that have been in Canberra. I think the Australians have made clear that they would take the lead on this.

I think our view has been that this should be an international peacekeeping force that has a largely Asian character to it. And that's simply because it would be more effective if that were the case. But we are prepared to provide support. We discussed with the Australians what they feel is needed, and that will take shape as the days unfold.

Q: Sandy, what exactly were the references in the meeting to the bombing of the Chinese Embassy? Did the President express any regret or apologize? Did the Chinese ask the United States to punish those responsible for the bombing? What exactly was mentioned?

MR. BERGER: The answer is, no. This came up only once in the meeting. The President did not raise it or speak to it. He obviously has made his views known in the past both directly to President Jiang and publicly.

In the context of discussing why there had been inability to resume negotiations on WTO, President Jiang made reference to the unfortunate incident of the embassy.

Q: Did the espionage charges come up at all, Sandy?

MR. BERGER: No. But those have been raised in previous meetings, and we fairly much know what the Chinese say about them.

Q: Sandy, can I get one more question? You said that President Jiang Zemin felt that the Taiwan issue was a very important issue. Did he specifically request that President Clinton make any comments directly in regards to the state-to-state statement made by President Lee? Did he ask him to denounce those statements? Is this an issue that they will be working through? If it is so important --

MR. BERGER: He did not. He did take issue with our arms sales to Taiwan.

Thank you.

MR. LOCKHART: Anything of the domestic variety?

Q: Actually, just one more question for Sandy. The wires are saying that Wiranto has asked for an expedited timetable for peacekeepers. Do you know anything about that?

MR. BERGER: I don't know any more about it.

Q: Sandy, was there any contact for the U.S. with Wiranto today?

MR. BERGER: Yes.

Q: Can you say who he's talking to?

MR. BERGER: I believe General Shelton.

MR. LOCKHART: Anything else? Okay.

(end transcript)


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