National Public Radio presidential debate

By the way, we also invited the Republicans to debate this week in a separate forum. They were unable to come for scheduling reasons and they are working with us to find a new date.

SIEGEL: This is an unusual debate. We've selected just three topics, subjects we think deserve close examination. And because we're limiting the topics, the candidates will have more time to explain their positions, and we will have the time to follow up on some of those answers.

We've already heard the candidates on Iran and the lessons of Iraq. And coming up, we'll talk immigration. Right now, it's China, and that's where my colleague Michele Norris is going to pick up.

NORRIS: Thank you, Robert.

Every modern president has faced a delicate balancing act with China. And this is how one listener, Panpan Wang of Venice, California, put it. Let's listen.

MR. PANPAN WANG (Venice, California): Many presidential candidates have talked tough about China and its human rights record in the past but, in the end, favor securing our economic interest rather than risk upsetting China by substantively talking about the human rights issue. China is given a free path to go at her own pace. How would you balance human rights and trade with China?

NORRIS: Senator Biden, I'd like to begin with you.

What kind of human rights commitment should the U.S. try to exact from China, particularly in advance of the 2008 Olympics? And how do you ensure that the country would actually live up to those commitments?

SEN. BIDEN: You can't ensure it but look, this is all about playing by the rules. I've been pushing, as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee for the last seven years, or the ranking member during that period, that we hold China accountable at the United Nations. We won't even, at the United Nations, we won't even designate China as a violator of human rights.

Now, what's the deal there? We're talking about competition. That's the — in terms of trade. It's capitulation, not competition. Name me another country in the world that we would allow to conduct themselves the way this country has — China — and not called them on the carpet at the U.N. Name me another country in the world who would use the trade practices they use with us, that we would not call them on the carpet.

MS. NORRIS: So, Senator Biden, are you saying that you would call them on the carpet, that you would —

SEN. BIDEN: Absolutely. Why —

MS. NORRIS: — that you would appoint a U.N. ambassador who would press for this?

SEN. BIDEN: And the reason I would is that, well, it's the one way to get China to reform. You can't close your eyes. You can't pretend. It is self-defeating. It's a Hobson's choice we're giving people here.

MS. NORRIS: A Hobson's choice is how Senator Biden characterized this.

Senator Clinton, what kind of commitments should we try to exact from China?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, I agree with Joe very much. You know, 12 years ago, I went to China, and the Chinese didn't want me to come. And they didn't want me to make a speech, and when I made the speech, they blocked it out from being heard within China, where I stood up for human rights and in particular women's rights, because women had been so brutally abused in many settings in China.

And I think you do have to call them on it. I mean, the Chinese respect us if we actually call them on their misbehavior and their breaches of human rights, economic activities and other kinds of problems that we have with them.

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