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China Trade Status Strategically Important to U.S., Asia

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 17, 2000 – A congressional rejection of permanent normal trading relations with China would have serious strategic repercussions on the United States and Asia, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said.

Cohen, speaking to the Asia Society here May 10, said when the United States has positive relations with China "that sends a powerful message to all the Asia Pacific countries."

Congress is due to vote on permanent trade status for China during the week of May 22. Receiving permanent trade status is a marker on the path for the Chinese joining the World Trade Organization.

Cohen told the Asia Society that all in the region can take comfort that the United States is "constructively engaged" with China. "How we treat China, how we relate to them, will be critically important in terms of the path they will take in the future," he said.

Cohen quoted former Secretary of State Jim Baker as saying "If you go looking for an enemy, you'll find one." He said the United States must convey to the Chinese that America is not looking for enemies, but friends.

"There are bound to be areas of disagreement," Cohen said. "We have areas of disagreement with our closest friends. But it is incumbent on us as a world power to make sure that we are always prepared to constructively engage China and other countries with diplomacy, backed up certainly by a strong military, which I support."

Cohen said as China grows more important to the region and world, "it will grow more open." He called it "sheer folly" to believe the world can "contain" China. "And the notion that China is somehow immune from change is also folly," he added. He illustrated his point by comparing the conditions he saw on his first visit to Beijing, China, in 1978 and those today.

In 1978, he said, there were few private cars, people wore the ubiquitous Mao suits and men and women couldn't hold hands in public.

"Today you will find a thriving metropolis," he said. "You will find a country that has been dramatically changed. It's not where we would like to see it in terms of its human rights yet. It is not yet there in terms of their trading practices. But we have the opportunity to work and engage China in a way that is beneficial to all concerned."

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Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen to the Asia Society of Washington, May 10, 2000

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