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 You are in: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice > Former Secretaries of State > Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell > Speeches and Remarks > 2003 > November

Remarks at Conference on China-U.S. Relations

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Texas A&M University
College Station, Texas
November 5, 2003

[DSL/Cable] [audio] [dialup]

2003/1124
(9:20 a.m. CST)


Secretary Powell with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger at the Conference on China-U.S. RelationsHowdy! I'm Alma Powell's husband -- (laughter) -- and it's a great pleasure for me to be back at Texas A & M and to participate in this very important conference. I thank you, Mr. President, for your kind and gracious introduction.

It really is an honor to join this conference which will explore the past, note the present, but, most importantly, look to the future. And I commend Texas A & M, the George Bush School of Government, the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation and the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries for sponsoring such an impressive gathering.

As the caliber of the conference participants, the scope of the agenda and the composition of the audience attest, the China-U.S. relationship is both compelling as it is complex. It is growing, and it is not just growing in a bilateral sense. Increasingly, our relationship is of a global nature. Our two great countries are exploring new ways to cooperate on issues of worldwide concern, whether it be conflict management, combating terrorism, or energy, or even epidemiology.

As President George W. Bush told China's next generation of leaders, the students of Qinghua University when he visited not too long ago, he said, "China is on a rising path, and America welcomes the emergence of a strong, peaceful and prosperous China." We welcome it. We do not feel threatened by it. We encourage it.

And therefore, it is fitting indeed that meetings such as this take place and it is especially fitting that such a conference should take place here at the George Bush Presidential Library. For history records, Mr. President, that through often turbulent times, you have been a prescient and persistent advocate for building a clear-eyed, constructive relationship with China, for not being afraid to move forward.

So many others participated in the development of this relationship. You've heard some of them mentioned in the course of the proceedings so far. But there are too many distinguished participants that I cannot stop and individually single them out. But one person deserves special mention, and that's my good friend sitting behind me, Henry Kissinger. History records that Henry was one of the principal American and Chinese architects of a new epoch in U.S.-China relations. Henry, without the rapprochement that you and President Nixon brilliantly achieved with your Chinese counterparts, a conference such as this might yet be something in the distant future. Both countries owe you, Mr. Secretary, my dear friend, a tremendous debt of gratitude. Sir, we thank you.

(Applause.)

Henry has also, over the years, been a mentor to me; a great friend, a wise counselor to so many who are here today. And as long as I can remember, Henry has been a true inspiration to…himself. (Laughter.) Henry and I have a running joke. It's been going on for 15 years now. I can never give a speech where Henry is present without taking a dig at Henry; and although I am racing off to Washington right after my remarks, I am absolutely confident that Henry will find a way to take a dig at me. (Laughter.)

Mr. President, you and so many others attending this conference, not least, of course, Vice Premier Qian Qichen, had the foresight to persevere through the ups and downs in U.S.-China relations over the past three decades.

I first visited China as a young Army lieutenant colonel during the beginning, during this early hopeful time in our relationship. It was the summer of 1973. I was a White House Fellow. And I think I was one of the first military officers to travel to China since the revolution. Two years later, Mr. President, while you were serving as Chief of the Liaison Office in Beijing, a new Harvard Business School graduate named George W. Bush visited you for six weeks and celebrated his 29th birthday. And Premier Qian was just beginning his diplomatic career as a counselor in the Chinese Embassy in Moscow.

It was a fascinating time. It was a time of ping-pong diplomacy. It was a time of panda exchanges. It was slowly starting to bring America and China together. But what really caused us to begin working together was that both nations shared a profound distrust of another nation, of another empire, a profound distrust of the Soviet Union. In truth, at that time, the U.S.-China relationship could not be very wide, it could not be very deep, because of our ideological differences, that which was pulling us apart, and because of the then closed nature of China under Chairman Mao Tse-tung.

But we began to move forward. We were drawn together by our concern about the Soviet Union. And then fast-forward to 1989, Mr. President, when you entered the White House. Premier Qian was by then China's foreign minister. You would soon appoint me Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Brent Scowcroft was on the team as well at that time. China had launched its remarkable economic reforms and was on its way to becoming one of the most important trading nations on the world stage. It began to open up more and more to the outside world. And then, suddenly, the primary strategic premise of our relationship disappeared. Democratic revolutions swept through East and Central Europe, and the Soviet Empire disintegrated, disappeared before our eyes; that which was supposed to last forever broke up in a matter of months. 

Both countries, China and the United States, realized that we had to begin constructing a new, more enduring foundation upon which to build U.S.-China relations. And, Mr. President, in your memoirs, A World Transformed, you wrote eloquently of your determination to do just that. In the post Cold War world, when the Soviet Union wasn't there as a common challenge to both nations, a new foundation of trust was necessary. But just as you got started in June of 1989, just five months into your Presidency, China's suppression of democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square brought those efforts to a halt. They stalled. As a result, through much of the 1990s, our differences dominated our relationships.

To this day, many matters of principle remain unresolved between China and the United States. We cannot and will not ignore them. And the purpose of this conference is for us to speak candidly to one another about differences and about areas of agreement, to speak to each other as friends. Yet, in a world where faithful friends and former foes confront a host of challenges, the United States sees an even greater need to shape a relationship with China that is defined by our mutual interests, not by those areas of disagreement. That is the kind of relationship President Bush has sought to build with China. And we know that China shares that goal.

Realizing the great promise of such a relationship will not be easy but it is all the more vital because of the choices that China has made for itself. A rapidly growing China chose to join the world economy and is adopting the rules of the World Trade Organization. And China is beginning to assert a leadership role in political and security matters and issues as a responsible permanent member of the Security Council. Any one of these new developments would be enough to cause us to seek a more enduring relationship with China.

But the road to that more enduring relationship is not always easy. In April of 2001, shortly after I became Secretary of State, a Chinese fighter collided with one of our reconnaissance planes. We wondered if that incident would bring down the hope of a productive relationship along with our aircraft. Many people worried. Many people said it's just like the old days. It was an early test of both leaderships. Ambassador Joe Prueher, who was doing a brilliant job in Beijing at that time, he and I and our teams worked with the Chinese teams over an intensive two-week period to resolve the matter. We both worked, both sides worked to resolve it, because we knew we could not let this single incident, however tragic, however disappointing to us both, contaminate the future, contaminate the relationship that we believe was ahead of us.

Our bilateral relationship weathered the storm. In fact, we learned a lot from that crisis. And I believe that American and Chinese actions during that two-week period actually paved the way for dramatic improvements in our relationship. Out of adversity, often opportunity presents itself.

Since then, the United States and China relations have been on the upswing, always going up. There have been no further dips. It is a relationship characterized by frequency of contacts, those important personal contacts that President Bush mentioned in his opening remarks.

Our two Presidents have had an unprecedented four meetings in just the past two years. I have met with my Chinese Foreign Minister colleague and friend and counterpart, Foreign Minister Li, five times in the past two months. We talk on the phone all the time. He tracked me down in Nicaragua early yesterday morning, about 6:00 a.m. (Laughter.) It has gotten so informal that when I first started in this job, and I would talk to my Chinese Foreign Minister colleague, either Foreign Minister Tang or now Foreign Minister Li, because of the 12-hour time difference, we used to arrange the calls. Whenever I placed a call, it would take 24 hours or so, maybe 36, before it was arranged, talking points were prepared, everybody knew what each side was going to say. A certain formality existed in these calls.

But I started calling so often that the Chinese were finding it difficult to get the talking points, and since I didn't tell them what I was calling about, they didn't know what to write into their talking points. And over time, they said, oh, just to heck with it; whenever he calls, take the call. (Laughter.) And the relationship has become so informal and close that about a month or so ago, Foreign Minister Li called me, and I happened to be at home. It was on a Saturday. And so the phone rang. I picked it up -- my Operations Center telling me the Chinese Foreign Minister was on the line, Mr. Li. And he gets on the line and we begin to have our conversation, and the interpreters are making sure that we perfectly understand one another, although his English is absolutely fluent.

When, suddenly, my two dogs started barking. My two Yorkshire terriers started barking, and they were barking because somebody was ringing the doorbell. And Alma Powell was upstairs shouting down, "Answer the door." (Laughter.) So what was I to do? (Laughter.) "Mr. Minister, I'll be right back." (Laughter.) The note takers have had a devil of a time capturing this exchange, but it really is the essence of the relationship that we have. Talk to one another as friends, talk candidly, talk directly. Don't pull your punches. This is what friendship is all about. This is what strong partnerships are all about.

Four of my cabinet colleagues -- Treasury Secretary Snow, Health and Human Services Secretary Thompson, Commerce Secretary Evans, and U.S. Trade Representative Zoellick -- have all been in Beijing within the past eight weeks.

And in Washington last week, Secretary Rumsfeld and I met with the Chinese Defense Minister.

High-level meetings are becoming so frequent, they are no longer treated as news or high drama by the media. Rightly so, because the "real" news is what we do together, not merely the fact that we meet.

North Korea is a vivid example of what we do together and how the United States and China are cooperating and working together in ways that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. In the case of North Korea and its nuclear weapons ambitions and programs, we are cooperating to send a concerted message to the leadership in Pyongyang that Pyongyang must comply with its international commitments, it must terminate its nuclear weapons programs, promptly, verifiably and irreversibly. We do not wish to see a nuclearized Korean Peninsula.

China hosted and fully participated in the Six Party Talks that were held in Beijing this past August. And China continues to play an important role in trying to bring North Korea into a serious diplomatic process.

In the Six-Party Talks, all of the regional stakeholders including our allies -- Japan and the Republic of Korea, include Russia as well -- are at the table putting our common interests forward.

Many said it wouldn't work. Many said it couldn't be done. Many said that President Bush should abandon the desire for a multi-party arrangement and just talk bilaterally with the North Koreans. They said North Korea would never agree to anything else and that China would not play a role in expanding the dialogue. But they were wrong. China did play a role.

In March of this year I met with my Chinese Foreign Minister counterpart, at that time Foreign Minister Tang, and I reinforced President Bush's message that China needed to rise to its responsibilities in dealing with this regional problem. The very next day the Vice Premier, who is here with us today, flew to North Korea and delivered that message, that there would be no alternative to multilateral talks in which all countries of the region would be fully involved, China included. I want to thank the Vice Premier again for the important contribution that he made in bringing those talks about.

A China that works constructively with us in this manner, along with other regional partners such as Japan, the Republic of Korea, Russia, that is a China that inspires confidence in its own people and gains trust from the rest of the world.

As was mentioned earlier in Bangkok just a few weeks ago at the APEC summit, President Bush presented to President Hu his latest ideas on how we could move the negotiations forward with the North Koreans. In this case, then following that meeting, National People's Congress Chairman Mr. Wu went to Pyongyang and discussed it with the North Koreans. He brought back reaffirmation that the North Koreans were interested, in principle, in moving forward once again to Six-Party Talks, where can exchange views, present new ideas. We know what needs to be done. The North Koreans need to stop their program. The North Koreans are looking to us and to the other nations in the region for security assurances. I believe strongly and am confident that a diplomatic solution is possible if we continue with this multi-party set of discussions and all parties come to the table looking for a solution.

This is just illustrative of the kind of leadership role that China is playing regionally and on the world stage in cooperation with us, not in competition with us.

Another area that I might touch on is China's contributions to the global campaign against terrorism. This is another example of the practical nature of our partnerships. China voted for all of the key Security Council resolutions against terrorism. China publicly supported Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan as we eliminated al-Qaida presence and the Taliban. More welcome still has been more than just political and diplomatic support, but China's pledge of tangible and real support to the Afghan people with a contribution of $150 million in bilateral assistance.

Also, in the difficult situation in Iraq, China has played a constructive role. Minister Li, and before him Minister Tang, and I spent much time working together on the various Security Council resolutions, and China played a helpful role last fall when Resolution 1441 was passed, putting Iraq on notice that we would not stand for its continued material breach of its obligations.

China also supported us on the three resolutions that have come since the war -- 1483, 1500 and most recently Resolution 1511. In this last resolution, which was an important one, the entire international community came back together again and endorsed the plan of moving forward to achieve early sovereignty for Iraq, once again, under its own leaders, but to do it in a way that is realistic, a way that will put in place a democratic Iraq that will live in peace with its friends and its neighbors.

And I hope that China will see its way clear to help us in the challenges that lay ahead with respect to providing hope to the people of Iraq, providing them material assistance.

Many of you may also be aware of other areas in which China has cooperated with us. Our counterterrorism dialogue has been an important one and it is producing positive results. Just to cite one example of how we're working together to protect both nations, today Chinese and American customs officials are working together in Shanghai and other Chinese ports to pre-screen thousands of shipping crates to ensure that we know what is coming into our ports and onto our shores. China is helping us with our homeland defense. And this makes us all, both sides, all nations, safer, more secure from the threat of terrorism.

There is another area that really may sound like it's outside the range of politics and Iraqi people where we're cooperating together, but it's an area that is vital to the well-being of the Chinese people, the American people, the people in the world, and it's now we're working together to deal with the dangers inherent in infectious diseases.

China's sobering experience with SARS earlier this year stands as a lesson to all countries on the challenge of infectious diseases. I have called HIV/AIDS the world's greatest weapon of mass destruction today. It threatens to kill tens of millions of men, women and children -- in the Caribbean, in Latin America, in the subcontinent, especially in Africa -- and yes, it is a danger to China as well.

And China's government is facing up to this crisis, working with us. The United States has told China we are ready to help. Last month, our Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson spoke in China of President Bush's interest in furthering our practical cooperation on HIV/AIDS and other health issues. Specialists from our Centers for Disease Control are working on the ground with their Chinese counterparts. Our National Institute of Health has granted $14.8 million to help China upgrade its health care infrastructure.

My friends, it is upon such concrete forms of cooperation on issues of regional and global importance that a 21st century U.S.-China relationship will be built, issue by issue, experience by experience, challenge by challenge, initiative by initiative, program by program.

As China participates more actively in world affairs, we will extend our welcome. We will also expect China to accept world standards in trade and proliferation and human rights, and openness and transparency in business and information. Building and sustaining a healthy overall relationship is good for America, it is good for China, it is good for the region, and good for the international community.

These days, it is our differences on economic issues that are most in the headlines. But it is important to keep our perspective with respect to these economic issues. Our economies are in many ways complementary. We had a $147 billion trade relationship in 2002 and we anticipate that that relationship will increase by about 20% in 2003. China is our fourth largest trading partner. It is our sixth largest and fastest growing export market. That said, we are concerned and we are still burdened by the disparity in the trade balance, by market access problems that American manufacturers are having, and by a non-market exchange rate.

President Bush and my good friends, Secretary Jack Snow and Secretary Evans and Trade Representative Zoellick, have made these points again and again to our Chinese friends in recent weeks. Our message to China is that our commercial engagement must be one that provides prosperity to both of our counties. As we advance our economic relationship with China, we will hold China to its World Trading Organization obligations and we will hold ourselves to the highest standards of free trade and open markets.

Another area where there are concerns and differences have to do with proliferation. We are pleased with China's recent cooperation with us to block the export of chemicals that could have been used in North Korea's weapons programs. The Chinese stopped it. And our very success in that particular case, however, has now set a much higher standard for our cooperation. It is in China's interest and the world's interest for China to enforce vigorously its own export controls and to exercise the most stringent oversight of its companies who are involved in this kind of trade.

Neither we nor China want to see the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and by acting on that mutual interest, China can turn the issue of proliferation from a negative to a positive in our relations.

On the matter of Taiwan, which is the issue that I think it as the top of all of the issues with which we exchange views with our Chinese friends, we know how strongly China feels about Taiwan, and our abiding interest remains in the peaceful resolution of differences between China and Taiwan.

President Bush has made this point many times. We have no hidden agendas here. There is no other agenda but our single policy, our "one China," which is clear cut, it is principled, it has served us well for a number of decades and it is set out in the three U.S.-China communiqués and in the Taiwan Relations Act.

We take our commitments and our obligations to both sides seriously, and I reaffirm that policy here again today before our Chinese friends.

We applaud the promising cross-strait, people-to-people efforts that are underway, and we hope to see more of these exchanges between the Mainland and Taiwan. Yet, we have to take note of the military build-up opposite Taiwan on the Mainland because that sends a very different kind of signal. Whether China chooses peace or coercion to resolve its differences with Taiwan will tell us a great deal about the kind of role China seeks with its neighbors and seeks with us.

No less important for the future of China itself, and for our bilateral relationship and for the world, is how China's leaders respond to the aspirations of their own citizens. China has signed on to a number of international human rights obligations. We want to see those obligations met. Only by allowing the Chinese people to think, speak, assemble and worship very, very freely, only then will China fully unleash the talents of its citizens and reach its full potential as a member of the international community.

Over the past year there have been a few prisoner releases, but we, frankly, have been disappointed by China's backsliding on some of the pledges that they have made to us earlier. My Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Lorne Craner was in China last week to discuss these issues, and we hope that these discussions will lead to real change in Chinese practices.

It is a reflection of the strength of our relationship that we can speak of these issues candidly and openly, and sometimes in a critical way. That is how real friends deal with each other. That is how real partners get along.

In 2008 China will host the Olympics. The world will come to Beijing. China has an historic opportunity to demonstrate that it is not just growing more prosperous and powerful, but also more just and more free.

What China chooses to do with its wealth and increasing influence ultimately is for China to decide.

The United States, with the rest of the world, will be watching China's actions closely to see whether or not they contribute to security, prosperity and human dignity both at home and abroad.

For our part, America hopes to work with China to help the Chinese people achieve their dreams, their hopes, their aspirations for a better life for their children.
Over the past three years, America and China have been building a track record of cooperation. We have not reduced our relationship to slogans. The relationship is far too complex to be reduced to a slogan. But it is a thriving relationship with many areas of cooperation and where areas of difference are dealt with openly and candidly. I believe that the next five years will bring great advances in U.S.-China relations and that our growing partnership will spur progress on matters of worldwide importance.

President George H. W. Bush was right when he said, "America does need to build a clear-eyed, constructive relationship with China." And that is just what we are doing in this Administration. President George W. Bush was right also, too, when he said, "We welcome the emergence of a strong, peaceful and prosperous China." Such a China can be a powerful partner in meeting the global challenges of the 21st century and in realizing the highest hopes of both of our peoples for a safer, better world.

Let that be our dream and let this conference contribute to that dream. Thank you so very much.



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