Office of the Press Secretary
(Aboard Air Force One)

For Immediate Release June 24, 1998


Anchorage, Alaska

7:09 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Let me begin by thanking all of you for your service and for giving Hillary and me and our entire delegation -- including Secretaries Albright, Rubin and Daley, and my Chief of Staff, Mr. Bowles, and National Security Advisor, Mr. Berger, all of us -- to feel so welcome and for welcoming this very distinguished delegation of Senators and members of the House of Representatives as we embark on this trip to China.

And thank you for your service here and thank you for bringing all the children. I always look forward to these stops at Elmendorf. You know, I couldn't go to China without stopping at Elmendorf -- literally, of course. (Laughter.) But I don't want to anymore.

Of all the times I've been here -- I've seen so many people, I've had a chance to express personal thanks -- I've never come here a single time and met with our service families that I haven't met at least one person -- and usually more than one -- whom I knew in my previous life, when I was Governor of Arkansas, or whom I had met traveling around the country in their previous service at another base. So for all of that, I thank you.

I'd like to thank Colonel Gration and you, General McCloud, for your distinguished remarks here and your service. General Simpson, thank you. I thank the members of the 3rd Wing, the men and women of the Air Force, the Army, the Navy, the Marines, the Coast Guard, and the National Guard, all of whom make up the Alaska Command.

Tomorrow, Hillary and I and our party will arrive in Xian for the first state visit to China, as Congressman Hamilton said, by an American President this decade. The American people are taking a special interest in this trip, just as they did when President Nixon first went to China a quarter century ago. I thought it would be important for me to spend a few moments speaking to you, who give so much to the security of our country every day, about why I am going.

Let's start with some basic facts. China is the world's most populous nation. It is growing by the size of our total population every 20 years. It borders more than one dozen countries in one of the most challenging regions on Earth. Its economy has grown an average of 10 percent every year for the past 20 years. It has a large military, a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, sophisticated industrial and technological capabilities.

Soon, it will overtake the United States as the world's largest emitter of the greenhouse gases that are doing so much to warm our planet. Clearly, the policies China chooses to pursue and the relationship between the United States and China will have a huge impact on your lives and the lives of your children and your grandchildren in the 21st century.

Of course, our engagement with China does not mean we embrace everything that China does; nor does it mean, parenthetically, that they agree with everything we do. We have chosen a course that is both pragmatic and principled: expanding cooperation while dealing directly with our differences, especially over human rights. This policy is the best way to advance our national interests, as results clearly show.

Just consider two areas vital to our security: promoting stabilitly in Asia and stemming the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Better than anyone, you know how important the Asia Pacific Region is to our country's future. We've fought three wars in Asia in this century. Even in a recession its economy still are major exports for our products. Five of our states touch the Pacific. Millions of Amercians trace their roots to the Asian Pacific Region. We are an Asian Pacific nation.

We keep aout 100,000 troops in Asia -- not directed against any advesary, but to maintain and enhance stability in a region that is going through very profound change. Now, I ask you to ask yoursleves: how can we better maintain stabililty in Asia -- by working with China or working without it? On the Korean Peninsula, where nearly 40,000 United States soldiers patrol the Cold War's last militarized fault line, China has worked with us to advance peace talks and to support our successful effort to freeze North Korea's nuclear program.

When India and Pakistan bucked the tide of history and tested nuclear explosives recently, China helped to forge a common strategy, working with us, designed to move India and Pakistan away from a dangerous arms race. And China's economy today serves as a fire break in the Asian financial crisis -- that's good for Wall Street, but it's good for Main Street America, too.

You all know how important our efforts are to stop the spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. China will either be part of the problem or part of the solution. In the past, China has been a major exporter of sophisticated technologies. But over the last decade, China has joined and complied with most of the major arms control regimes, incluidng the Nonproliferation Treaty, the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty; and it has agreed to abide by most of the provisions of the Missile Technology Control Regime.

Over the past few years it has also pledged to stop assistance to Iran for its nuclear program; to terminate its assistance to unsafeguarded nuclear facilities such as those in Pakistan; to sell no more anti-ship missiles to Iran. Each of these steps makes the world safer and makes America safer. It was in no small measure the product of our engagement.

In many other areas that matter to the American people working with China is making a difference, too -- fighting international crime and drug trafficking, protecting the environment, working on scientific research. And if we keep doing it we can accomplish a great deal more.

When dealing with our differences, also I believe dealing face-to-face is the best way to advance our ideals and our values. Over time, the more we bring China into the world, the more the world will bring freedom to China. When it comes to human rights we should deal respectfully, but directly with the Chinese. That's more effective than trying to push them in a corner. I will press ahead on human rights in China with one goal in mind, and only one: making a difference.

That's what all of you here in the Alaska Command are doing for America -- making a difference. The reach of this Command is truly remarkable, flying missions far and wide in your F-15s, AWACS, C-130 airlifters, patrolling the skies below the Korean DMZ, facing threats in the Persian Gulf, helping democracy make a new start in Haiti, running counternarcotics operations out of Panama, training with Canadian forces in the Arctic, conducting oil spill exercises with Russia and Japan. And, of course, working with the Chinese through the military-to-military exchange program you host. I understand another group of Chinese officers will be here just next month.

Wherever your country calls, you are there. Whenever your country needs you, you deliver. So again let me say to all of you, to those of you in uniform and to your families, your country thanks you and I thank you.

Last week, the summer solstice touched Elmendorf and you had 20 hours of daylight. Hillary said she was glad to be here in the middle of the afternoon. We could have come in the middle of the night and still had daylight at this time of year. (Laughter.) By December you'll be all the way down to six hours of light a day. But in every season, day and night, thanks to you the bright light of freedom burns here. It illuminates every corner of our planet. So no matter how cold or dark it gets, never forget that your fellow Americans know you are burning freedom's flame and we are very, very grateful.

Thank you and God bless you. (Applause.)

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