More Links in News & Events

Renew China's Trade Status By Jimmy Carter

This op-ed by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter was published April 30, 1991, by The New York Times.

ATLANTA - China presents the American Government and people with one of their more difficult and important international relationships. It is extremely valuable to have continuing trade and cooperation with this nation of more than a billion people, for its strategic influence is crucial to stability, peace and progress in Asia.

Yet, it is not possible to overlook the conclusion and aftermath of the Tiananmen Square confrontation of June 1989, which resulted in the deaths of several hundred demonstrators.

When Prime Minister Deng Xiaoping and I decided in 1978 to normalize diplomatic relations between our Governments, new opportunities were created for cooperation in commerce and geopolitical affairs and for unlimited private and official visits. One of the most significant developments was the large-scale student-exchange program.

More than 60,000 Chinese students have come to U.S. universities, and are still coming. There are 40,000 still here pursuing their education or engaging in professional work. Many are in a quandary about their future. Almost unanimously, they are loyal to China and wish to honor their written pledges to return. Understandably, they do not wish to be charged with subversion if they have criticized Government policy in recent months and want the right to continue their studies abroad after visiting their families.

Recently, I was invited to China to conclude major programs for the handicapped initiated four years ago by the Carter Center. I was eager to do this but reluctant to have my presence serve as an endorsement of the human rights policies of Government leaders with whom I would meet.

Thus, I asked that I be invited to speak to the College of Foreign Affairs, an elite student body of young people who will be diplomats. I also asked that human rights issues be on the agenda of each meeting with leaders. These requests were honored.

I made it clear that I was speaking as a private citizen and a friend of the Chinese people. My repeated public and private suggestions were relatively simple and clear. One was that Chinese students be guaranteed the right to visit their home country with impunity from detention or legal action and be permitted to return to their studies abroad. The other was that amnesty be granted to all those involved in the events of June 1989 who did not commit crimes of violence. I also proposed that no further trials be held and that imposed sentences be reduced or commuted.

I hope the authorities will realize that they have adequately restored order, that China's legal guarantees of freedom of expression must be honored, that all nations are bound by the same basic commitments to human rights and that requests like mine are not an unwarranted intrusion into their internal affairs.

Prime Minister Li Peng, General Secretary Jiang Zemin, Foreign Minister Qian Qichen, Education Minister Li Tieying and others listened with patience and close attention to these suggestions. They assured me that students can visit China freely and return abroad, and did not reject the other suggestion out of hand.

They (and leaders in other socialist countries) point out, correctly, that there is a wide range of human rights, some of which are respected in their countries and neglected in the U.S. These include the right to have a decent home, a job and adequate health care.

It is self-satisfying for us Americans to emphasize freedom of speech, the press, religion and assembly as the only important human rights. In fact, each nation has a right, perhaps even a duty, not only to correct its own human rights failings but also to address problems in other countries.

A reconciliation between our countries is very important. Most-favored-nation trade status should be extended, and trade and visitation encouraged.

China's leaders must realize, however, how important it is that they be innovative and generous in putting the Tiananmen Square tragedy behind us.

Donate Now

Sign Up For Email

Please sign up below for important news about the work of The Carter Center and special event invitations.

Please leave this field empty
Now, we invite you to Get Involved
Back To Top