FTN Transcript - April 8, 2001

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BOB SCHIEFFER: Today on Face the Nation, Secretary of State Colin Powell on the China stand-off. The Chinese are still insisting that the United States apologize for last week's collision between a navy surveillance plane and a Chinese jet fighter. What will the administration do? Are the crew members hostages? We'll ask Secretary of State Powell.

Then we'll get Congress's view of all this from two members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: Senators Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana, and Chris Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut.

Tom Friedman of the New York Times will be sitting in for Gloria Borger, and I'll have a final word on what Congress did or did not do last week.

But first, Secretary of State Powell onFace the Nation.

And with us now in the studio, Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Mr. Secretary, thank you for joining us.

COLIN POWELL, Secretary of State: Good to be here.

SCHIEFFER: Also here, Tom Friedman of the New York Times sitting in for Gloria Borger.

Mr. Secretary, first, what is the latest?

POWELL: The latest is that we are in intense negotiations with Chinese officials in Beijing. Our ambassador, Ambassador Joe Prueher, has been in twice so far this morning to exchange ideas, to exchange documents, to find a way through this difficult situation we find ourselves in.

There is a road map that we set out with the Chinese leadership a few days ago. The president put it down and said here's a way that we can get out of this, and we are on that road map. I wish we were moving a little faster, but things are on track. And I'm hoping we can continue to see progress over the next few days.

SCHIEFFER: Obviously, the secretary of state does not go on national television in the midst of something like this unless he has a message for all sides concerned. What is your message today to the Chinese government?

POWELL: My message to the Chinese government is that this incident should be brought to a conclusion as quickly as possible. If there are factual disagreements and if there are issues that we want to raise subsequently, let's do it in a forum that has been set up for such purposes in the maritime agreement that has been mentioned on a number of occasions in the press, or through some other forum. Let's not keep these 24 young men and women detained in China while the two governments are having a political dispute. Let's get this behind us as quickly as possible.

The other message I would give to the Chinese government is that serious damage is now starting to be done to the relationship. Congressional delegations are canceling their trips to China. I'm getting calls from business leaders saying, "Not sure I'm going to go visit."

And so, damage is being done. And we want to limit that damage and get back on a positive track because we have many things we need to be doing tgether. And we don't want to see this relationship damaged in the time of opportunity.

FRIEDMAN: Mr. Secretary, Ambassador Preuher has had a chance to talk to the crew now. Can you tell us what actually happened? Our plane is going along slowly, this plane come from under, from above, what happened here?

POWELL: I really don't want to give that kind of information because first of all I don't have it all, and I'm not sure we should be describing the details of the accident officially until we've had a chance to really debrief our crews and find out what they say to us, not in the setting of a Chinese officer's club.

FRIEDMAN: The Chinese say we ran into them.

POWELL: I have seen no evidence whatsoever, nor have I heard of any evidence, that suggests that our plane took any action which precipitated this accident, this incident. So that is our position right now, which is why it is impossible for to us say we're responsible, and thereby it is not proper for us to extend an apology. We have nothing to apologize for at this point.

SCHIEFFER: Mr. Secretary, how did the plane get from where it was when the accident occurred to this Chinese base? Was it guided there? What happened?

POWELL: Well, as near as I can tell, it was a remarkable feat of airmanship on the part of the crew. When they realized how seriously damaged the airplane was, they knew they had to put it on the ground.

I'm not a pilot, but I know from pilots I've talked to, you get the plane on the ground. And that was the closest airfield that they could get to. And so they started down after losing control for about 8,000 feet, the pilot recovered and was flying this crippled airplane toward that airfield.

He went on a guard frequency, an international guard frequency, broadcast maydays and tried to get clearance. But for one reason or another, and I don't know the answer to this following observation or question, he didn't get that clearance from that airfield.

And so, he nevertheless went in with the other Chinese plane, as I understand it, with him as they went in. And he landed the plane safely, and he should get enormous credit. The crew should get enormous credit for having done that.

SCHIEFFER: Well, was the Chinese government surprised when that plane sat down?

POWELL: I'm sure they were. I mean, suddenly a crippled plane shows up that was not expected. I'm sure it was surprised. Although perhaps the Chinese pilot, the other Chinese pilot called ahead.

I don't know that, I'm speculating.

Sure, they were surprised, but I think a quick examination of what was there, a damaged airplane that had to be landed and some young men and women who were not threatening anybody, they just happened to be there, should have told the Chinese rather quickly that an accident has happened that we just need to get to the bottom of. But it really doesn't seem to me to have leto a course of action which would have suggested that they should have detained them for this length of time.

FRIEDMAN: Mr. Secretary, be a little more specific on what is at stake here for the Chinese. Are there actually businessmen telling you, "We're ready to reduce our investments"?

POWELL: I'm getting calls from members of Congress, and I've met with members of Congress. They're canceling their delegation trips. They're also saying, "You know, Secretary Powell, you'll have a much more difficult time with, say, getting another permanent normal trading relations bill through if you don't get World Trade Organization accession this year."

And I'm getting calls from very senior former officials who travel regularly to China and businesspeople who travel to China to do deals. And they're saying, "You know, it's becoming difficult to justify us going there at this time." The relationship is being damaged and the sooner we can bring this to a conclusion, we can halt the damage, not let things get any worse, and get back to broader equities that we should be talking to the Chinese about.

FRIEDMAN: Mr. Secretary, there was a sense, I would say about 24 to 36 hours ago, that this was now heading for some kind of resolution. I sense it's stuck somewhere now. Where exactly is it stuck?

POWELL: The road map that was described 24, 36, 72 hours ago, we're still on that road map. There are some zigs and zags on it, and there are still some exchanges of views that would suggest we're at loggerheads. But we're on that road map, and it is unfolding.

FRIEDMAN: We're on the road but we are at loggerheads at this moment?

POWELL: There are occasional loggerheads, a little barriers you have to get around. But I am confident we'll be able to get around these barriers. How quickly, I don't know. I would have preferred to have this solved a week ago, but for reasons that are within the Chinese government's framework to understand, it didn't happen. They had to go through a process within their government, and we're watching it unfold.

FRIEDMAN: Are you worried that the Weekly Standard, a pro-Republican journal here in Washington, widely read, has referred to President Bush's behavior in this as a "national humiliation"?

POWELL: That is very unfortunate, and it is also absurd. The president has been leading since day one. He spoke firmly the first day or two, and we didn't know anything about our crew. We didn't know whether they were safe. We had no access to them, and he made the appropriate demands.

I tried to engage the Chinese government at the highest levels. It was clear they wanted to handle it within the ministry of foreign affairs.

Every step of the way for the last seven days, President Bush and the rest, supported by the national security team, has acted in a responsible way that recognizes that there is large relationship here that we have to worry about, but we also have 24 young Americans we have to get out as soon as possible. He has been sensitive to the families. He has been sensitive to the strategic issues that we have on the table.

And he has been sensitive, frankly, to the feelings of the Chinese, and I don't find anything wrong with this. They are the only ones who have lost somebody at this point, and there is a widow out there and we regret that. We're sorry that her husband was lost no matter what the fault was.

And I think President Bush has handled this in a very, very positive way, showing leadership all the way, and frankly, trusting and relying on his national security team to execute his decisions.

FRIEDMAN: Would you rule out military action at some point?

POWELL: I don't see any - there's no need to speculate for this. I don't know where military action even enters this equation at this point.

SCHIEFFER: Mr. Secretary, you have said that the Chinese know that they should not expect an apology. Let me just ask you an obvious question. What would be wrong with apologizing?

POWELL: Because when you apologize, you're suggesting you did something wrong. You're accepting responsibility for something that you don't believe you have responsibility for.

And so it would be very inappropriate for us to have this government, which is detaining 24 of our youngsters, to place a demand on us and we accept their version of events when we have reason to believe that that version is not the correct version.

And we have a way of finding out the correct version through established channels that have been created in formal documents. So there's a way to get to the truth, and until we get to the truth, it would be very inappropriate for us to accept responsibility and to offer an apology.

What we have done and what President Bush has done and what I have done and what Ambassador Prueher is talking to them about is to make sure that they understand we do regret the loss of their pilot and plane. We do acknowledge that we violated their air space, but look at the emergency circumstances that the pilot was facing. And we regret that, and we've expressed sorrow for it, and we're sorry that that happened. But that can't be seen as an apology accepting responsibility.

SCHIEFFER: The Chinese are also saying that we should stop these flights. Is there any possibility that that could happen?

POWELL: Our reconnaissance flights have been going on for decades. They go on over international waters in international air space. They threaten no one. They're part of our national security efforts to keep peace in the world and to make sure that we are safe and secure and our allies are safe and secure. And we can't stop performing those flights just because one country or another prefers that we not fly them.

So, our reconnaissance flights, when we fly themhow we will fly them in international air space over international water will be something that the United States government will decide.

SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you this question. You've talked about how this relationship has been damaged already. Give me some specifics on that. Is that in trade, China's membership in the World Trade Organization? Where do you see that damage is really being done?

POWELL: I am hearing from members of Congress; I briefed a number of them last week. They've gone off on recess, so they won't be here this week.

But I can say to you right now, that if they were in session this coming week, and when they do come back, if this has not been resolved - I'm not suggesting it won't be - there will be action. There will be a great sense of outrage that this is continuing and a great sense of outrage and concern that how could we have stable relations with a country that is acting in this way.

And so this is the time for the Chinese leadership to bring this matter to a conclusion as rapidly as possible. And if there continue to be political disagreements between the two governments, let's not let those political disagreement serve as a reason for keeping these young men and women away from their families.

FRIEDMAN: Mr. Secretary, we're now considering the sale of an advanced weapons system to Taiwan. Is this conflict right now, this tension, affecting the environment in which that decision will be made? Is that something you're communicating to the Chinese at all, or should they understand it?

POWELL: The Taiwan arms sales stands alone and apart, and we do that with respect to Taiwan's defensive needs.

But I have to say that, of course, it's affecting the environment that we will be facing when we take the sale up on Capitol Hill if there is a perception that China is not acting in a responsible and reasonable manner.

So even though we're keeping it separate, I can't help but say to the Chinese that it could become linked in the overall political climate that may exist at the time this goes up. And so it is not in anyone's interest, it's not in the United States' interest, it's not in the interest of China for this situation to continue very much longer.

FRIEDMAN: Can I ask where our allies are? Feel like we're watching two guys bump into each other on the street and everyone's watching around and they're kind of headed for the hills. Where are they?

POWELL: Well, there's no question that I have not seen a single country say that China is the person acting responsibly in this regard. Some of have been more outgoing than others. The British have come forward and spoken out rather clearly.

A number of others have spoken to the Chinese quietly through their own channels in their own ways. And with every foreign visitor I have received in the past week, I have encouraged them to advise the Chinese government in a similar fashion.

SCHIEFFER: The president is planning to visit China, as I understand. Is that planning still under way for that?

POWELL: Well, the president will be attending the summit meeting in Shanghai, that is the plan. And in response to an invitation from the vice premier when he was here and from the president of China, he was planning to visit China.

But, you know, the whole environment is at some risk right now. Fragility has been introduced into the relationship, and I can't tell what the likely consequences will be if this is not brought to a speedy conclusion.

SCHIEFFER: Mr. Secretary, we'll end on that note. Thank you very much, and good luck, of course, in resolving this.

POWELL: Thank you very much.

SCHIEFFER: We'll be back in a moment with more perspective from two key members of Congress.


SCHIEFFER: And joining us now from Fort Myers, Florida, Senator Richard Lugar of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a Republican of course. Here in our studio from the same committee, Senator Chris Dodd.

Senator Lugar, let me ask you. Colin Powell says there's a new fragility to this China-United States relationship that might even preclude, as you heard him say, the president going to an APEC meeting, an economic conference in Shanghai. Do you think it's that fragile at this point?

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR, R-Indiana: Well, Secretary Powell listed a whole raft of things that might occur hypothetically. It seems to me that clearly we're in a negotiating posture not unlike what might be termed a bell-shaped curve that we saw when President Lee of Taiwan came to the United States in 1995, and then when we bombed the embassy of China in Belgrade in '99.

You sort of go through a series of steps in which, in this particular case, Jiang Zemin, the premier, has taken the military's version of what occurred and probably the military's desire to use this to get us out of the China Seas, or to back off of at least so much support of Taiwan.

So now they're in a situation in which it's not clear whether the leadership, the civilian leadership of China can get off of that horse.

That was the case in this bell-shaped curve in the past. There was a hiatus, or a period of tapering off.

Now, they'll finally have to gauge whether they can reach an internal agreement in China and what the damage is to the relationship with us. And my guess is, they're trying to assess that.

But their decision-making process, as Secretary Powell described to Chris and to me this week, is a circular thing. It takes a while for everybody to come aboard, and we're becoming impatient.

SCHIEFFER: Well, Senator Dodd, what do you think about what Secretary Powell said, that the fact that the Congress is out right now might be a good thing, but when they come back, they're going to have some very strong things the to say that really could change the rlationship?

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD, D-Connecticut: Yes. He said they're fortunate, in that sense; that we're on a two-week break here. There's the old bromide here that partisanship ends at the water's edge when it comes to matters like this. And I think you'll find today that this is not a Democratic or Republican position.

We've got 24 young Americans, "detainees" I'll call them this morning. If you ask me the question, Bob, in two or three days, I'm going to call them "hostages." Others have started to do that already, but we're getting precariously close to that.

And this is a time when we really need to pull together. We've got to be careful, as members of Congress, not to contribute to the hard-line elements in China that Dick has properly identified.

We have a very complicated, extensive relationship with China. It's going to be one of the most important bilateral relationships, if not the most important, in the 21st century.

And so I think we need to stand behind the president at this point. I think his team is doing a good job, based on everything I can tell. And I would urge those who might want to take advantage of this for ideological reasons here not to contribute to the hard-liners in China who may be isolating or trying to isolate the premier there.

So this is a time to, I think, to calm down and allow the negotiators to go forward.

But it clearly is a lot more dangerous or precarious than I thought it was 24 hours ago. I think we're back in difficult waters here again.


FRIEDMAN: Senator, what are you hearing from your colleagues? There are issues on the table. We could hold up preferential trade for China again, Olympics, arms sales. What is the mood up there right now? What do you feel brewing?

DODD: Well, Dick and I attended a meeting with the secretary, and without going into the specifics of who said what, there were certainly some members who expressed their deep concerns about where this would end up if this matter were not resolved and these young people not brought home very, very soon.

So I would have to tell you, Tom, that I think every one of those issues is potentially on the table. I don't like to say that; I hope it's not the case . But there's a real possibility, if we come back in two weeks and we're still talking about this and 24 young Americans are still being held on that island, then every one of those issues, I hate to tell you, is on the table and probably should be to some extent.

SCHIEFFER: What about this whole business of arms sales to Taiwan, Senator Lugar. Could this impact on that?

LUGAR: Well, of course. As Chris Dodd has said, the whole shooting match is up in terms of the numbers of topics.

I think, though, a dimension of this that may not have been hit is that the American people need to be informed by the president, the secretary of state and others as t what America's stakes are in Asia, why we are concentrating much more of our foreign policy attention, security attention on Asia, why the South China Sea requires a reconnaissance flight to go back and forth on a set route. The Asian security depends to a great extent upon American presence. Now, that is being challenged in this case.

In my judgment, the Chinese military has found it a nuisance, inconvenient or worse, for the United States to be as intrusive as they believe we are. They would like for us, at least some of the military, to be out of Asia all together. Now that's the serious implication of what we're talking about here. And I think that really has to come home in a way that it has not really for several years. We need to have a national re-education session on Asia and the United States' stakes and presence.

SCHIEFFER: What should the United States - what is the way out for the president right now? Senator Dodd, do have you advice here?

DODD: Well, no, and I think Secretary Powell said a couple of things. Look, we clearly are sorry this pilot lost his life. I understand that President Bush has written a letter to the widow. He's not going to apologize, and he shouldn't at this point. We don't know what the facts are. It would be really ludicrous for us to be apologizing for something where we don't know exactly what happened here.

And I think the fact that the secretary has said, look, America is sorry about the loss of life of this pilot. That seems to me - and regrets deeply what happened here - is more than adequate.

Something else is going on here, I'm suspicious of, inside China. This is more, as someone said, a crisis for China more than a crisis for us at this point. Tom Friedman, a very good piece last week talked about the 54,000 Chinese who study here, the $40 billion a year in business they do in this country.

So it seems to me the administration is on the right track. I wouldn't retreat from that, and I just hope that cooler heads inside China prevail and understand how important this relationship is, as Dick Lugar has said.

SCHIEFFER: All right, gentlemen, I want to thank you both for bringing those perspectives this morning.

We'll be back with a final word in just a minute.


SCHIEFFER: And finally today, when the Senate passed the budget deal Friday that included a $1.2 trillion tax cut, all sides claimed victory.

"We're keeping the president's promise to cut taxes," said the Republicans.

"But we forced them to use some of the money they wanted for tax cuts to help education," said the Democrats.

And then a bipartisan group of moderates pointed out that it all happened because they pushed both sides to a compromise.

Well, they're all right. But here's what they didn't talk about: None of the above really amounts to a doodly squat. Congress didn't write any tax legislation lasweek; it simply approved a blueprint for spending.

In the old days, the president sent a challenge to the Capitol, the appropriate committees divided it up, decided which programs to approve, how much money to give them. Then there was a big fight and that was it.

Then someone decided it would be easier to control spending if Congress first approved an overall spending plan so the law was changed to include a spending blueprint. It worked well enough until Congress realized that whatever the blueprint, Congress could make changes, just the way that a person building a house can add a garage long after the architect has drawn up the plans.

When Congress approved its blueprint last week, it followed the law. And it gets lots of publicity as it always does, and that's what Congress did last week.

But here's a friendly tip: Don't spend your tax savings just yet. Congress still has a lot of work to do on that part.

Well, that's it for us. We'll see you next week right here on Face the Nation.

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