Friday, April 16, 2004

SEOUL — Vice President Dick Cheney called on China to match its economic changes with political reform, and he warned yesterday that the failure to resolve the North Korea crisis could trigger a nuclear arms race in Asia.

“Freedom is not divisible,” Mr. Cheney said during a speech to students at Fudan University in Shanghai. “If people can be trusted to invest and manage material assets, they will eventually be asked why they cannot be trusted with decisions over what to say and what to believe.”

The vice president praised communist China’s economic reforms in the past 30 years but said people with economic prosperity also want “greater freedom in expressing their views and choosing their leaders.”

Mr. Cheney’s remarks were an unusually blunt criticism of China’s communist rulers. They have refused to initiate democratic reforms, despite loosening economic controls, fearing greater political freedom will unleash instability in a nation with 1.3 billion people.

According to U.S. officials in Shanghai, China’s state-run television broadcast Mr. Cheney’s speech live and did not use a 90-second delay to censor it. In the past, censors have cut objectionable comments made by U.S. officials speaking in China.

Regarding North Korea’s nuclear program, Mr. Cheney said resolving this is “one of the most serious problems” in Northeast Asia.

Allowing the regime in Pyongyang to have nuclear weapons likely will lead to nuclear weapons and missile proliferation in the region, he said.

“There are nations in the region that have the technical capacity to produce nuclear weapons but they have not done so,” said Mr. Cheney, who made clear current talks are designed to persuade North Korea to give up its arms.

“But if North Korea becomes a nuclear power, and has ballistic missiles, which it does, and has the ability to threaten other nations in the region with nuclear weapons, then those nations may conclude that their only option is to develop their own capability. And then we’d have a nuclear arms race unleashed in Asia and that’s not good for anyone.”

Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have the technical infrastructure and resources to build nuclear arms and missiles, according to nuclear experts.

Based on past behavior, Mr. Cheney said North Korea also “could well provide this technology to someone else, or possibly to terrorist organizations,” such as al Qaeda to help the “sad state” of its economy, and that al Qaeda already has tried to obtain nuclear technology.

Mr. Cheney departed Shanghai shortly after the speech and arrived in Seoul yesterday afternoon following a two-day visit to China. On Wednesday in Beijing, Mr. Cheney pressed Chinese leaders to fulfill promises to allow democracy to continue in Hong Kong, which reverted from British rule to Beijing’s control in 1997.

In Shanghai, Mr. Cheney’s speech and a question-and-answer session provided a rare public airing of the vice president’s views on foreign policy and national security issues. Several hundred students gathered in a lecture hall at the university to hear Mr. Cheney talk.

Asked by a student whether he was the most powerful vice president in U.S. history, Mr. Cheney acknowledged the role of the vice president has changed and he has been fortunate to be a key adviser to President Bush.

Speaking of efforts to bring democracy to Iraq and the Middle East, Mr. Cheney said democracy can be “untidy and unpredictable” but it allows for peaceful expression of different views, protection for individual rights and can “check the ability of the state to abuse its power.”

Mr. Cheney noted that critics who say democracy cannot take hold in the Middle East in the past said the same about Asia. “Yet today the world looks to Asia as a showcase of the possibilities of human enterprise and creativity,” he said.

“Across this region we see entire nations raising themselves up from poverty in the space of little more than a generation, building strong modern economies, and becoming stable, peaceful and open societies of free peoples, governed under laws set by representatives chosen in free elections,” Mr. Cheney said.

Noting the importance of economic growth, Mr. Cheney said, “Material goods alone cannot satisfy the deepest yearnings of the human heart. That can only come with full freedom of religion, speech, assembly and conscience.”

Mr. Cheney also warned that terrorism and the spread of deadly chemical, biological or nuclear arms pose new dangers.

“The ultimate threat is that these problems — terrorism and proliferation — may one day come together in a sudden, catastrophic attack by terrorists armed with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons,” he said.

However, Mr. Cheney also noted U.S.-China cooperation in fighting the global war on terrorism “must never be used as an excuse for silencing legitimate expressions of political dissent,” another slap at China’s government that has used the war on terrorism to crack down on ethnic separatists.

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