The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 11, 2001

Background Briefing by
Senior Administration Official
on President's Meeting With
Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung
the James S. Brady Briefing Room

5:43 P.M. EDT

     MS. COUNTRYMAN:  Thanks for coming.  We're just going to give a very brief readout of the President's meeting with C.H. Tung.  That will be ON BACKGROUND.  You should make your attribution to a senior administration official.

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Hong Kong Chief Executive, Mr. Tung Chee-Hwa, sometimes often known as C.H. Tung, met today with President Bush for about a half hour.  A net of the still photography that went on at the beginning of the time.  And this is the first time that the two leaders have met before.

     Mr. Tung is in the U.S. on personal business, and during his visit to Washington he met this morning with Secretary of State Colin Powell.  He had lunch with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.  Members of his staff, his trade minister met with the Trade Representative, Mr. Bob Zoellick.  And he had calls on Capitol Hill on both the House and Senate side.

     His visit coincides with the hearings on the extension of normal trade relations to Hong Kong -- or rather, normal trade relations for China. Hong Kong has, of course, always been an active supporter of extending these normal trade relations.

     I'll just take a few notes from what went on in the meeting.  The President made the point to the Chief Executive that he was strongly committed to a constructive dialogue with the People's Republic of China; that he had detected an ability to work through problems, a vision to see beyond these things and to move in that direction.  He noted that his appointee to be Ambassador to China had lived in Hong Kong for some time and is a longstanding acquaintance of the President's.

     I think there is the hope that Mr. Randt, who is the nominee to be Ambassador to China, will soon be confirmed by the U.S. Senate and be able to go to China.

     The President mentioned his concerns for religious freedom.  And in response, the Chief Executive emphasized Hong Kong's autonomous status and its commitment to several freedoms.  There was a discussion about normal trade relations.  And the President and the Chief Executive both agreed on this importance.  The brief touching on events in the region and the cross-strait relations, and the President emphasized the imperative of peaceful resolution of this issue.

     Mr. Tung, in responding to the President, brought him up to date because, of course, it's been such a long time since the President has had a chance to visit East Asia; pointing out that 50,000 Americans are living in Hong Kong -- there are 1,100 businesses there; that the U.S. is Hong Kong's largest trading partner.

     He mentioned the visit of Chinese President Jiang Zemin in May and that President Jiang had affirmed to him just how important he found good relations with the U.S.  And the Chief Executive I think indicated that he was very pleased with all the indications he found during his discussions here in Washington as far as the outlook for good relations with the U.S.

       In talking about the four years since the reversion of Hong Kong as a special administrative region, Mr. Tung pointed out that he felt that the one country-two systems has worked very well; that the commitment to rule of law had remained -- freedoms of speech, of assembly, of press were being retained -- and that the People's Republic of China had stayed out of Hong Kong affairs, other than in defense and foreign affairs relations within the constructs of the basic law.

     Other than that, there was some discussion in terms of the chief executive's views of Chinese history and setting the stage, I think, for the President's visit to China later this year.  I think that covers most of the broad range of issues that were covered during this meeting, and I'll be happy to take your questions.

     Q    On freedom of religion, did the President indicate his concern about the crackdown in China and possible spillover into Hong Kong?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yes, he did, and the Chief Executive pointed out that the SAR operates under very different rules and that there is a strong commitment in that direction in Hong Kong.

     Q    Did today's -- or last night's Hong Kong legislative council action, basically giving China the power to fire the next Chief Executive, did that come up?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  That did not come up in the meeting with the President.  It did come up over at the State Department earlier, and the Chief Executive indicated that it's been well established for a long time that China has the right to take that action, and codifies it into law.  And so he gave some explanation, I think, of that legislative act this morning.

     Q    Did you buy that explanation?  When he went out here, it looked like he had pretty soft treatment and he wouldn't talk about distinguishing his views on universal suffrage with the mainland.  He really did nothing to reassure us or the critics of any of these concerns, and there are about a dozen of them, as you know.  I mean, does President Bush understand how serious this could be?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  There was no, as I said, detail of this in the discussion with the President.  And there wasn't that much detail on this, this morning.  The Chief Executive, I think, has made pretty clear his commitment to a gradual democracy in Hong Kong.  But there was not a detailed discussion of this particular Hong Kong legislation.

     Q    What did he say to reassure the White House -- that basically he'll leave Falun Gong alone?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  He indicated that there was no likely change in the law, and that their existing practices -- which as he pointed out in some detail -- permit a wide variety of beliefs and religions to be practiced, would continue.  There was no particular comment about -- certainly not with the President -- about the future of the Falun Gong, in general.

     Q    Does the President mention specifically about the Falun Gong, or just in general, about religious freedom?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  He talked about both in general, and he mentioned Falun Gong specifically as something that had generated a great deal of concern among many people in the U.S.

     Q    The European Union has raised concerns about economic freedom in Hong Kong and the dominance of large Hong Kong companies.  Is that something that --

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  That did not come up in the discussion.

     Q    -- about Beijing's bid for the Olympics, did that ever come up?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  It came up very briefly.  And the President took the position I understand Mr. Fleischer has often taken here, that this is a vote by the International Olympic Committee, not by the U.S.

     Q    And about the cross-strait relations, besides the -- you mentioned about the imperative of peaceful resolution.  Beside that, what does the President say?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  That's what the President mentioned and talked about, that his position on this was very clear, and that he was determined that people needed to understand this very well, and that he had spoken on that subject before.

     Q    Would you say the President is optimistic about the medium-term in Hong Kong --

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  The President is -- I took no view on the future of economy or politics on Hong Kong.

     Q    The issue of Taiwan going the way of Hong Kong, with the one country-two systems --

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  No, there wasn't an in-depth discussion about Taiwan in that context.

     Q    When Mr. Tung came here under President Clinton, there was discussion about the pace of democracy.  Did that issue arise here, and does the President happen to feel that there could be a faster pace, or should be a faster pace of democracy?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  The President didn't express that view.  The general thrust of the Chief Executive's remarks was that that was proceeding, but I'm not aware of any discussion, I didn't hear any discussion of whether that should go faster or slower, or whether it's going just right or not.

     Q    What about the State Department?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  That was about the same way that it went on at the State Department.  We were reassured to hear the commitment that this pace would proceed and didn't try to parse exactly how fast.

     Q    Could you tell us about the State Department talks a little bit, and what difference there was in topics between what was discussed there and here?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I'd say this was -- I think there was a lot in common in the three meetings.  I think Mr. Tung was delighted to come to Washington, and he's obviously been concerned that if relations are bad between China and the U.S., that that is bad for Hong Kong, economically and probably other ways as well.

     And so in that context, in really all three meetings I was a part of there, he seemed to be very pleased that that relationship is, at very minimum, on an even keel, and may well be improving.  And the prospects of visits to China by the President would support that.

     Q    Could you tell us who initiated the visit?  Was it the U.S. side or --

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I don't know the answer to that.  I think Mr. Tung was coming for a private visit that presumably he had scheduled some time in advance, and offered himself, if he was in Washington, to pay these calls, and we were happy to respond.

     Q    Was this the first meeting --

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  First time the two gentlemen have ever met.

     Q    So, even before --

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yes.  So that the Chief Executive knows former President Bush very, very well, and I think there was a brief discussion about that.  But President Bush -- George W. Bush -- had never met Mr. Tung before.

     Q    Did Mr. Tung try to bring any kind of message from --


     Q    Was he asked to take a message back?


     Q    -- from the lack of specificity in the conversations that you also don't share the concern that some of us have been raising about Hong Kong and the future?  Or did you miss an opportunity to be a bit more forceful?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  (Laughter.)  I'm briefing about the President's meeting, and I didn't have a meeting with the Chief Executive on my own.

     Q    There have been comments from the Consulate General on Hong Kong earlier this year that Hong Kong can be a case more of one country than two systems at times.  Has Mr. Tung said anything in either the State Department meetings or the presidential meeting to overturn that view?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yes, I think he has, because particularly on his emphasis on the freedoms that people have in Hong Kong to pursue various personal interests on their own, and that he expresses a lot of pride in the one country-two systems as a combination formula.  And I don't think -- well, I'm not going to characterize whether he would agree or not agree to whether that system is deteriorating or enhancing.  But he certainly made that point.  And so there was not legislation in Hong Kong -- as far as I know, there was no special or unique crackdown on any religious practitioners.  And this difference with China I think pretty clearly understood.

     Thank you very much.

                               END         5:56 P.M. EDT

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