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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 9, 2003

Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
The James S. Brady Briefing Room

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12:55 P.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: The President was -- has been honored to host Premier Wen here today at the White House. As the two leaders noted earlier, they had a very -- they have had a very friendly and candid discussion on a number of important priorities. I would like to just add that later this afternoon, we will do a background briefing with some senior administration officials in this room, and we'll get you the information on that at that time. And with that, I'm glad to go right into questions.

Steve.

Q What was the proposal that the Chinese Premier offered to help the economic relationship?

MR. McCLELLAN: In terms of discussing things from the standpoint of China, I would let them discuss those issues and those specifics. We do appreciate the way that China has been responding to our concerns on trade. As you all are aware, the President and President Hu had discussions about this earlier, as well as Secretary Snow has been to China, and we appreciate the way China has been responding.

China has made strong public commitments of their resolve to crack down on intellectual property piracy. The President raised that issue. China has publicly committed to maintaining an open and predictable market for U.S. agricultural exports. I would point out that agricultural exports to China have more than doubled so far this year to over $3 billion. China is also working to move up the schedule for U.S. automakers to obtain trading and distribution rights to sell in China. And China is also sending buying missions to the United States for big-ticket export items, including a $1.7 billion purchase of U.S. aircraft last month.

The President reiterated that he is strongly committed to expanding trade with China, but that trade must be both free and fair. The President told the Premier that China needs to do more to open its markets and share a mutually beneficial trade relationship. They had a very good discussion on these issues.

Q What about the free floating of the Chinese currency? What discussion was held about that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President brought that issue up in the meeting in the Cabinet Room. The President reiterated our belief that the best international financial system is one based on free trade, free flow of capital, and market-determined exchange rates. And we welcome the Premier's reaffirmation that he agrees. We also recognize that the transition to a market-determined currency is a complex process, and we appreciate that the Chinese have reached out to the Treasury Department for assistance in that process.

Q Why is the President opposing the exercise of the democratic self-determination by the people of Taiwan when he says that that's a cornerstone of his policy worldwide?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, our policy remains the same. And the President, in the meeting, made it very clear that we support the one China policy and the Taiwan Relations Act, which is part of the three joint communiqus, and that we do not support Taiwan independence. You heard directly from the President on this very issue. The President made it very clear that the United States opposes any unilateral attempt to change Taiwan's status, or to change the status quo. The President also made it clear that that applies to both Beijing's possible use of force and Taiwan, itself, including referenda and constitutional reform that would change the status quo.

Q The President does not support Taiwan independence under any circumstances?

MR. McCLELLAN: We have made it very clear that we do not support Taiwan independence. We support the one China policy, which is part of the three joint communiqus. The President believes it's important to continue urging both sides to refrain from actions or statements that increase tensions or make dialogue more difficult to achieve.

Q Isn't there a contradiction between that policy of maintaining the status quo and not allowing unilateral actions, and the desire, apparently, of a substantial number of the people of Taiwan to vote on the matter? I thought this President was for that kind of democratic activity.

MR. McCLELLAN: The President opposes any unilateral attempt to change the status quo. That has been our policy, and that remains our policy. And that applies to both Beijing and Taiwan.

Q Scott, on the same issue, the Taiwanese make the point that the referendum they have proposed is not about independence, the word doesn't appear in it; it's about the Chinese missile build-up on the coast facing Taiwan, a missile build-up that I think it's U.S. policy also to oppose. So could you tell us, separate from the issue of independence, why is the President opposed to a referendum in a freely held Chinese state on a question of missile build-up?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President talked about some of this in the Oval Office. You heard from him directly. It is our view that the recent statements and proposals coming out of Taiwan that you bring up would imply a desire to change the status quo, and we oppose any unilateral attempt to change the status quo, for the very reasons I was just stating to Terry.

Q Can you imagine any other areas --

MR. McCLELLAN: Hypothetical --

Q -- areas around the world where the President would not favor a democratically-held referendum?

MR. McCLELLAN: This has been a longstanding policy and it remains the same.

Dana, do you have something?

Q Yes, what are the consequences for Taiwan ignoring the President's wishes on this?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we've made our views very clear. Our policy is well-known. They are very aware of our views, as is Beijing.

Q Are you willing to impose sanctions?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to get into just hypotheticals about what are the consequences if they --

Q Well, they're planning to go ahead with this resolution as of now. Are the United States willing to impose sanctions?

MR. McCLELLAN: We will continue to emphasize what we already have. No, I am not going to get into hypothetical actions or anything like that.

Q But you would not rule out the use of sanctions?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to rule in or rule out.

Q There are some, Scott, who say you may not be changing the policy, but that the President is changing the emphasis. You remember early on, he did say he opposed Taiwan's independence, but he also said that he would do whatever it takes to defend Taiwan, the emphasis there being on defending Taiwan. Now some are saying the emphasis seems to be on condemning or reprimanding the leadership of Taiwan and issuing statements that the Premier himself several times said he appreciated. Is there a shift, at least, in emphasis and is there any connection to China's help on other matters like North Korea?

MR. McCLELLAN: The policy remains the same, and that's why he mentioned the Taiwan Relations Act earlier, as well, and referred back to the three joint communiqus.

Q Can I follow up on that, too?

MR. McCLELLAN: Stay on this subject -- go ahead, John. Did you have something?

Q If you looked at how he said it at the beginning of the administration and how he says it now, you are right in that all of the -- all of the boxes are checked. But it is said with a different -- there seems to be a different emphasis. And not a strategic competitor, now it's a partner in democracy. Would you at least concede there is a different emphasis because of the development of the relationship?

MR. McCLELLAN: I would state that our policy remains the same and we're making it clear that this applies to both sides. That's what I would emphasize.

Q On the question of whether or not the referendum itself is heading down the path toward independence, is there a specific statement that you could point us to that indicates that that is indeed what the Taiwanese have in mind by doing this referendum?

MR. McCLELLAN: That's what I said that it seems to imply, a desire to change the status quo. You've seen the public comments that have been made.

Q I was wondering which public comment the White House interprets as an indication that --

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think I need to point to each specific comment, but the comments that have been made publicly by Taiwan recently.

Q You don't have an example you could give us?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to just point to a specific one. I think that the comments that Taiwan have made recently are very well-known on this issue.

Q Why shouldn't people see this as the administration picking and choosing its moral clarity when it comes to foreign policy, by opposing democracy here because it doesn't suit your interests in the region, especially since China is helping on North Korea? Why isn't this kind of cherry-picking your moral clarity?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, this has been a longstanding policy. This policy has been in place, and what the President said today was reiterating what that policy is. He was asked a question about it, and he reiterated what our policy is.

Q My question is, why isn't that hypocritical? I mean, you're all for democracy in the Middle East and in Iraq, but the Taiwanese people see that and then America says, no, not for you, not democracy for you.

MR. McCLELLAN: There are a lot of matters you address around the world, and different circumstances require different action and strategies.

Q Well, explain that. Explain why this strategy is different, why the Taiwanese are being sacrificed for what? What is the larger good here that the President sees?

MR. McCLELLAN: You might want to go back and look at the three joint communiqus, and look at that.

Q Lay it out for the American people. They're hearing all this emphasis from the President.

MR. McCLELLAN: This is what he has said from the beginning.

Q Do you want to get 10 Americans on the street, and see if it's clear?

MR. McCLELLAN: This is what he has said from the beginning, this policy.

Q -- reporting here --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sure that you all in this room will do your best to educate them about what our policy has been and what our policy is, and why -- and why it is.

Q Why don't you educate us about what the President's thinking is -- why there's moral clarity when it comes to pushing democracy in some parts of the world, but not here. What is the larger interest?

MR. McCLELLAN: Wait. We support any change -- any unilateral attempt to change the status quo. That's what he's made very clear.

Q Even a democratic change?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you need to look at that.

Q Why is it our policy? Is it because China is so much larger and has such a huge economic market? And what if Taiwan decided it wanted to become another country -- Formosa, not part of China, would the United States then accept that?

MR. McCLELLAN: That's a huge hypothetical there. Our policy is longstanding on this issue. And you go back and look at the three joint communiqus, look at our policy, one China policy, look at the Taiwan Relations Act. I mean, that spells out our policy very clearly. And the President was reiterating that. There have been some recent comments that have been made by some, and that's why the President was --

Q The answer to why --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's why the President was stating very clearly what our policy is --

Q Why?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- and what it has been. It's been a longstanding policy for the reasons spelled out in the three joint communiqus.

Q Scott, you say you oppose a unilateral movement toward democracy in Taiwan. In what way could Taiwan move toward democracy that would please the administration?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, this is addressing the current status quo. We oppose any attempt to change, unilaterally, the status quo, in regards to China and Taiwan --

Q -- that implies a bilateral, a multilateral --

MR. McCLELLAN: That applies to both China and it applies to Taiwan. And the President made that clear in the Oval Office in the meeting with Premier Wen.

Q Premier Wen said that democracy as was being practiced by President Chen in Taipei was being used as a tool to split Taiwan away from mainland China. Does the President agree with that?

MR. McCLELLAN: You heard the President's comments. That's what the President believes, in terms of what he said in his comments, and what I've reiterated from this podium. That's the President's belief.

Q Does he agree with Premier Wen that President Chen is using democracy to split Taiwan away?

MR. McCLELLAN: We're working together to address these issues and talk about any differences we may have, as well, on a whole host of issues, but also working together on areas of common interest.

Q Scott, in the last few days or few weeks, there have been statements from China threatening to attack Taiwan. If this issue has been discussed between President Bush and the Premier of China that China should not make such a threat against Taiwan, because we will be there to --

MR. McCLELLAN: The President brought that up in the meeting in the Oval Office, and made it very clear that this position applies to both, both Beijing and Taiwan. And that includes the possible use of force by Beijing, as well as any unilateral attempts by Taiwan to move toward independence.

Q If there is a threat from China, U.S. will defend Taiwan at the same time U.S. policy will change on China?

MR. McCLELLAN: U.S. policy will change?

Q Towards China.

MR. McCLELLAN: Our policy is the same under the one China policy and the Taiwan Relations Act, the three joint communiqus.

John, did you have something?

Q Yes.

MR. McCLELLAN: On this issue?

Q Yes, I just wanted to get your idea of how a unilateral declaration of independence by Taiwan would affect the application of the Taiwan Relations Act?

MR. McCLELLAN: One, you're getting into what we oppose, any unilateral attempt to change the status quo. Now you're going into some hypothetical about if that happened, how would that affect things. We deal with the here and now and the way things are. And our policy has been consistent and clear all along, in terms of Taiwan and China and independence or unification.

Q You're dealing with the here and now, but you also have to think about the potential for what could happen.

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't tend to get into all these hypotheticals from the podium.

Q Haven't you changed the policy here a little bit?

MR. McCLELLAN: Staying on this?

Q I thought that the United States had never foreclosed the possibility of Taiwanese independence, as long as it was mutually agreed to.

MR. McCLELLAN: We've made it clear that we do not support Taiwan independence, and that we oppose any unilateral attempt to change the status quo.

Q So there's no way --

MR. McCLELLAN: By both -- that's Beijing and Taiwan.

Q -- even if a future government in Beijing agreed to allow -- even if it was mutually agreed to.

MR. McCLELLAN: Unilateral. That's why I emphasized unilateral.

Q So you don't -- it's possible that some day Taiwan could be independent?

MR. McCLELLAN: It's important for there to be dialogue on these issues. And that's why we've urged both sides to refrain from actions or statements that would increase tensions.

Did you have something on this?

Q Just to follow up on John's question about a possible change in emphasis, are we more concerned today about changes in the status quo because we have more military commitments today and maybe would have -- it would be less easy to defend Taiwan against attack?

MR. McCLELLAN: Our policy has not changed. Let me make that very clear. You're asking comments based on some suggestion that maybe our policy has changed; that's not the case. This policy has been in place. And we deal with each issue around the world as circumstances dictate.

Q But are we more concerned about a change in the status quo because we would have more difficulty defending Taiwan now that we have more military --

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know if I'd look at it that way.

Q Did the subject of U.S. military aid to Taiwan --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll come to you next. I'm sorry, go ahead.

Q Did the subject of U.S. military aid to Taiwan come up in the discussions, and can we expect any kind of change in our supply of weapons to Taiwan?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have anything to announce. We'll see if the background briefers have more on that later. We'll see if we can get that question for you then.

Q The Chinese Premier said that President Bush told him he opposed Taiwan's independence. And you just told us that U.S. do not support Taiwan's independence. Could it be in private U.S. is telling China opposing Taiwan independence and in public you are saying another thing, you do not --

MR. McCLELLAN: You heard from the President himself; our policy is that we do not support Taiwan independence and that we oppose any unilateral attempt to change the status quo. That's our policy and we've made it very clear publicly for a long time.

Q I don't understand why the U.S. is committed to defending Taiwan militarily if it's attacked if it doesn't think that Taiwan can be a separate country. There's no consistency here.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think there is. And we've talked about this issue previously, in terms of the one China policy and in terms of the Taiwan Relations Act. This applies to both sides. This applies to Beijing, this applies to Taiwan in terms of any unilateral attempt to change the status quo. And there are a lot of reasons for that.

Q Scott, this is a follow on the currency question. As you know, this continues to be a concern of American manufacturers. Does the President believe there was progress made today as a result of these talks? And was progress made compared to discussions he had in Bangkok on the same topic?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I think that, as I said, China is responding to the concerns that we have raised, and that would include on the issue you bring up, as well. And we appreciate the way that China is responding. And that's why I pointed out that we recognize the complexities involved here and we are continuing to work with China on these issues. But we appreciate the way they're responding to it.

Q Scott, one more time. The President has opened a lot of eyes around the world by giving a speech in which he has said that he has been wrong, that President Clinton was wrong, that his own father was wrong, Ronald Reagan was wrong in the context of the Middle East, in putting U.S. interests over the rights and aspirations of people across the Middle East. You just mentioned the complexities of the relationship with China. Is it because of those complexities that that standard does not apply when it comes to Taiwan?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, keep in mind the importance of how trade plays into this, as well, and by expanding trade and promoting free trade -- with a level playing field, I might add -- how that helps bring about reforms and changes, and changes things in countries, as well. And that's -- free trade is a way not only to promote economic growth, but to promote or plant the seeds for democracy.

Q You indicated that progress was made on the currency issue. Did the leaders discuss any timetable for revaluing the --

MR. McCLELLAN: No.

Q So what's the progress?

Q So what was the progress, yes.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well --

Q They've given us no timetable --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, they discussed -- it's what I discussed earlier. I mean, I think that there's a recognition of the need to continue to work on this issue. I think you can get the view from the Chinese side, as well. But the transition to a market-determined currency is a complex process. That's why I brought that up earlier.

The Chinese have reached out to the Treasury Department. There is some technical cooperation that has previously been established between the Treasury Department and China's Central Bank. The purpose of that is to develop the financial sector in China, including the development of foreign exchange markets and liberalization of the capital markets. And we appreciate the fact that China has responded and reached out to us on this important issue. And there's going to be a meeting in January in Beijing on some of this.

Q Scott, can you just confirm which economic advisors were in the expanded Cabinet meetings? It was supposed to be Snow, Friedman, Zoellick --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll get you that, yes. Secretary Snow, Secretary Evans, Ambassador Zoellick, they were all in there. I can get you more of the names. I didn't bring a list out here with me --

Q I'm sorry, what's the January meeting about?

MR. McCLELLAN: It's on the technical cooperation efforts, what I was talking about, with the U.S. Treasury Department and the Central Bank. I'd check with Treasury Department about some more specifics.

Are we staying on this topic, or ready to move on? China? You've had yours. China. And then we'll go to the next issue.

Q Have there been or will there be any discussions with the Chinese leaders about human rights, in particular the persecution of Christians in China?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President raised our concerns in the first meeting in the Oval Office, both on human rights and religious freedom and the need to do more. He did bring that up, in addition to the other topics that were covered, some of which you heard from the two leaders about -- North Korea, Taiwan and the war on terrorism are areas where we're cooperating.

Q And what were the answers?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I'll let the Chinese speak for themselves. But we continue to raise those concerns and make our views very clear.

Q Scott, on another topic, there was a major move today in the Democratic party. Al Gore, the man who won the popular vote in the last presidential election, threw his support behind Howard Dean. Why is the White House deflecting anything Democratic, especially right now when this man, who in some instances beat President Bush in the last election --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, because there's a lot of important business to focus on and a lot of important priorities that we're working to accomplish. And, two, we're not in the Democratic primary. I think there are nine candidates in there. There are a lot of differences they're debating amongst themselves. We'll let them debate those differences and come to a resolution of that, and then there will be plenty of time for talking about differences down the road.

Q What is the thought -- what is the thought about Al Gore, the man who won the popular vote, threw his support at this early stage behind Howard Dean? He could actually be the heir apparent right now in the Democrat Party.

MR. McCLELLAN: During election year, during primaries, there are all sorts of endorsements that are made on behalf of candidates. That's all part of the Democrat primary. We'll let them work out their differences. The President is going to continue to focus on our nation's highest priorities of winning the war on terrorism, protecting the homeland, and strengthening our economy and creating a more robust environment for job creation. That's what the President is going to do. There will be plenty of time for talking about the campaign later after the Democrats have decided -- made their decision.

Q So when can the public expect to see President Bush actually going against the Democrats, talking -- they're lobbing things against every time they speak.

MR. McCLELLAN: Not now. The President is going to continue focusing on the people's business.

Q The same subject of Al Gore. Today when he endorsed Howard Dean, he also launched a very strong attack against President Bush and his Iraq policy, including using the word "quagmire," which in a way resembles -- used to be said in Vietnam. What does the President feel about the attack that Al Gore launched on his policy?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President is going to stay focused on what we are trying to accomplish here to make the world a safer and better place abroad, and to make America more secure at home, as well as what we are doing to strengthen our economy. As I mentioned, that's what the President is going to continue to do.

I think the American people recognize that this President has acted in their best interest to make the world a safer and better place for future generations and to make America more secure. That's what the President has acted to do, and that's what we are doing. I don't think anyone would argue that we would be better off with Saddam Hussein still in power in Iraq.

Q Scott, is it safe to say that the President --

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know if anything you say is safe to say, Lester. (Laughter.)

Q Is it safe to say that the President would never ever do to Dick Cheney what Al Gore has done to Joe Lieberman?

MR. McCLELLAN: Vice President --

Q -- isn't that true, that he'd never do that to --

MR. McCLELLAN: The Vice President is doing an outstanding job and he appreciates -- the President very much appreciates the job that he is doing.

Q And do we believe that Taiwan has no nuclear weapons?

MR. McCLELLAN: We've made our views known on that, and I'm not going to --

Q You have?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to say any more on the subject.

Q Scott, on the commission of Cuba, what makes sure the President that this time the commission will succeed in ending the regime of Fidel Castro? And what the President really expects May 1st when Cuba receives the first report of this commission, the key to open Cuba to democracy, or the key to the end of the Castro regime?

MR. McCLELLAN: I didn't catch the last part, but this commission that the President put in place continues to show his commitment to helping to bring about a Cuba that has freedom -- has freedom of press, that has freedom of religion, that -- and the President is strongly committed to achieving that objective. And the commission was set up to look at ways that we can continue to move in that direction, as well as plan for a time when there is a post-dictator Cuba.

Q What is the time frame of that plan to --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that -- I believe that there are some time lines on the reporting back to the President. I don't recall those specifically off the top of my head. Their first meeting here at the White House yesterday was a very productive meeting. They continue to move forward on that.

Scott, there is speculation that Secretary of State Powell will be offered the presidency of the World Bank. Has he discussed this with the President, and who would replace Secretary Powell at State? (Laughter.)

MR. McCLELLAN: Huge hypothetical. Lot of speculation in that one. I don't -- the State Department addressed that the other day. They said they hadn't heard anything about it. We haven't heard anything about it either, so -- go ahead.

Q Is there any possibility that the President will make another surprise visit to the troops at Christmas? (Laughter.)

MR. McCLELLAN: There's nothing to update on the President's schedule. The President often pays visits to our troops, both abroad and at home, but I wouldn't read anything one way or the other into anything about the President's schedule. We'll keep you updated on the President's schedule.

Q Scott, at the discussion this morning, did the President discuss anything about Hong Kong, the elections in Hong Kong?

MR. McCLELLAN: We can check with the briefers later and double-check that, but I'm not aware that that came up. But we can discuss that with the briefers later, double-check that.

Q -- got a non-surprise schedule question. The President is going to the Kennedy Center tonight. Why does he want to hear the symphony, the Iraqi Symphony?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this is, one, this is another example of the Iraqi people realizing the benefits of freedom. I think the Iraqi Symphony Orchestra exemplifies some of the best about the Iraqi people. And he looks -- the President and Mrs. Bush very much look forward to attending this performance. And you all will be there to watch it, as well.

Q Scott, one quick one on the speech today. When the President said today that political freedoms are necessary for the Chinese -- for national greatness and national dignity, did that also apply to the people of Taiwan?

MR. McCLELLAN: That applies I think broadly to all people. The President has often talked about freedom is a universal right of all people. And the President is strongly committed to promoting freedom and spreading freedom throughout the world.

Thank you very much. And thank you for whoever left this up here.

END 1:21 P.M. EST