THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release March 1, 2000
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
TO UUNET AND MCI WORLDCOM EMPLOYEES
3:15 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Melissa. To Bernie and John
and Mark, thank you for welcoming me and Ambassador Barshefsky and our
whole team here. I leaned over to John when I looked at all of you out
here and I said, now, I can't believe all these people are off work now,
what terrible thing can happen? (Laughter.) What could I be
responsible for doing to the Internet today? (Laughter.)
I am profoundly honored to be here, and I thank all of you for
allowing me to come. I came here to talk about your future, but because
this is the only opportunity I'll have today to speak, through you and
the media to the American people, I have to make a brief comment about
one other issue.
Today there was another terrible shooting in the Wilkinsburg
community in Allegheny County in Western Pennsylvania. We don't know
all the facts yet, but it was a bad situation. Yesterday, of course,
that tragedy occurred in Michigan, where a very young child was killed
by another very young child. I just talked to the superintendent of
schools there, right before I came out.
I want to say two things about it to all of you. First of all,
these are personal tragedies that, because of instantaneous media
coverage, we all know and feel. And we owe the families of the victims
and the communities our prayers and our best wishes.
Secondly, as citizens, these incidents, particularly the one
yesterday in Michigan, call on us to recognize the fact that we simply
haven't done everything we can do to keep guns away from criminals and
children. And so today, I have to say again to Congress: you have had
legislation now that would require child safety locks, would close the
gun show loophole, would take other steps to keep guns out of the wrong
hands for well over six months. You're supposed to take a recess next
week. Before you take the recess, please send me this legislation. It
will help keep America safer. (Applause.) Thank you.
Now, I want to talk to you today about your future, which is
unfolding at a breathtaking rate. We were talking, before we came out,
I said, tell me a little about the growth. So John said, well, five
years ago we had 40 employees, today we have 8,000. Bernie said, five
years ago, we had 2,000 employees, today we have 88,000. You're getting
along reasonably well. (Laughter.)
I have been going around the country saying to my fellow Americans
everywhere that in a new economy in which we have now in the last seven
years 21 million new jobs, the lowest unemployment and welfare rolls in
30 years, the lowest poverty rates in 20 years, the lowest female
unemployment rate in 40 years, the lowest African American and Hispanic
unemployment rates ever recorded, the highest homeownership on record
and the longest economic expansion in our history, the world is changing
so fast, if you want to keep doing well, you have to keep trying to do
better; that it is very important that all of us understand that we'll
never get anywhere by standing still -- although, given the pace at
which you're growing, I'm glad I'm giving you the chance to stand still
for a little bit today. (Laughter.)
This shift in our economy is changing the landscape of our country,
both symbolically and literally. I first saw the landscape of Northern
Virginia as a freshman in college, 36 years ago. But it looks different
than it did when I became President, seven years ago. Everywhere you
look, there's a brand-new facility. This place is truly amazing. And
beneath all the booming business parks and green pastures, there are
countless miles of cable, conducting more than over half the Internet
traffic in the entire world.
There are more high-tech firms in Northern Virginia today than
there were farms in 1970, when the region led the state in the
production of milk. (Laughter.) Here in Loudoun County, there are more
high-tech workers than there were residents in 1980. It has been an
amazing thing. Workers like you and firms like UUNet are the new
engines driving our economy. You represent about 8 percent of our
employment, but 30 percent of our growth over the last decade, something
you can be very proud of.
The new technologies that you use are also finding their ways into
every sector of our economy, making companies of all kinds more
competitive. UUNet provides a lot more than Internet service. Every
day you show us something about the power of ideas, the power of
imagination, the power of enterprise; values that are at the core of
America's character and at the bottom of this booming new globalized
economy, in a marketplace that is much, much wider and fuller of
possibility than any of us could have imagined when this company sold
its first commercial connection in 1988.
In just 12 years you've extended your reach to 100 countries,
expanding your global network by more than 1,000 percent a year. The
global network is a big part of your future, and that's what I want to
talk about today, and what government's role in that is.
People ask me all the time, well, this is the highest percentage of
growth in jobs in the private sector, and the smallest percentage in the
government of any recovery we've ever had, since we could measure such
things. As a matter of fact, since I've been President, we've reduced
the size of government to its smallest point in 40 years, since 1960.
So people say, well, what is your job, Mr. President? What is the
Congress's job? I think our job is to create the conditions and provide
the tools for you to do your job. What does that mean? That means we
ought to invest in education and training and new technologies. There's
a lot of research that can't efficiently and economically be done in the
The Internet originally grew out of government-funded research,
which, as I was reminded today by your leaders, is one of the reasons
there are so many high-tech firms in Northern Virginia. Second, we've
got to give you an overall healthy economy, which is why we had to get
rid of the deficits and start running surpluses, and why we ought to pay
this country out of debt, keep interest rates down and make capital
available for other companies to grow as well.
The third thing we ought to do is to promote genuine competition.
That was behind the gentle nudge that Bernie gave me about the Baby Bell
comment. (Laughter.) He was -- actually, it was a little inside joke,
but he was referring, in a supportive way, to the fact that the Vice
President and I fought hard in the Telecommunications Act, when we
rewrote the telecommunications bill for a pro-competitive position. And
because we fought hard, we got it, and you not only have companies like
yours that have swollen in size in the last five years, there are
hundreds and hundreds of companies that didn't even exist five years ago
that are able to make it today because the United States took a
pro-competitive position in the Telecommunications Act. Those are our
jobs. That's what we're supposed to do. (Applause.)
But finally, we are a country with 22 percent of the world's income
and 4 percent of the world's population. And you don't have to be
Einstein or even particularly good with a computer to know that if
you've got 22 percent of the world's income and four percent of the
world's population and you would like to keep doing better, you have to
sell something to somebody somewhere else. (Laughter.)
And that in a world that is increasingly globalized, you're better
off when they're better off. Not good for you that African countries
which are capable of growing at 7, 8, 10 percent a year are so burdened
by debt that they can't educate their children or provide health care to
their people. It's not good for you if -- because we refuse to open our
markets to some countries in the Caribbean or Latin America, they don't
open their markets to ours and they grow more slowly and their people
remain poorer. You'd be better off if they get richer and more of them
will be on the Internet.
We live in a time when really to doing the morally right thing
happens to be good economics. But in order to do it, again I would say,
you will do a lot of it -- I've seen enterprising kids in poor African
villages logging onto the Internet and finally seeing a map that's up to
date and learning geography and doing all kinds of things. People will
take care of this if we establish the right conditions and provide the
One of the things that we have worked hard on is to expand trade.
Under Ambassador Barshefsky and her predecessor, we completed over 270
trade agreements. But in many ways, perhaps the most important of all
is the agreement that -- or the decision Congress will have to make this
year and in the next few months on whether to let China come into the
World Trade Organization by giving them permanent, normal trading
relation status with the United States.
If you've been following this debate at all, you know there is a
lot of controversy about this in the Congress. And I won't go through
all the arguments now, but let me just tell you, I can say this from my
heart, you know, I'm not running for anything this year. (Laughter.)
And most days it's okay with me, but I'm not -- most days. (Applause.)
But I care a lot about what this country will be like when the
young people here in this audience are my age, when your children are
your age. This is a profoundly important issue. It is, in the short
term, the kind of decision that every country would wish for. Once in a
generation you get a chance to open a market with over a billion
consumers -- the biggest potential market in the world.
Let me explain, first of all, what this agreement does. In return
for China's entry as a full partner in the World Trade Organization, the
United States would gain unprecedented access to China's markets.
Today, with the Chinese, we have our second-biggest trade deficit --
tens of billions of dollars, because our markets are open to their
products, and they should be, because we'll be better off if they do
But their markets are not very open to our products and services.
Under this agreement, Chinese tariffs in every sector, from
telecommunications to automobiles to agriculture, will fall by half or
more in five years. For the first time, our companies will be able to
sell and distribute products in China made by workers here at home
without transferring technology in manufacturing -- never happened
before. For the first time, China will agree to play by the same open
trading rules we do. Never happened before.
Meanwhile, we'll get two tough, new safeguards against surges of
imports which would threaten to throw a lot of Americans out of work in
a short time under unfair trade practices. So these are the kinds of
changes any president, regardless of party, would welcome -- because
presidents, regardless of party, have worked to bring about these
changes for more than 30 years now.
This is a good deal for American workers, for American farmers, for
American business. It's a good deal for America. But the only way we
can get this agreement is for Congress to give China permanent, normal
trading relations. This is one of the most important votes Congress
will pass in this year and for many years to come. Next month, our
Commerce Secretary, Bill Daley, and our Agriculture Secretary, Dan
Glickman, are going on missions to China with dozens of members of
Congress to meet with people in government and business and religious
leaders who are interested in change in China.
It's very interesting to me that the more people go to China and
spend time there, no matter what they do for a living or what their
perspective is, the more likely they are to favor our bringing China
into the world system of rule-based trade. Because this is about
economics and more than economics -- and I want to say more about that
in a minute.
But just think about the economics of high-tech companies. Today,
China's tariffs on information technology products average 13 percent.
When China joins the WTO, those tariffs will start to fall and be
eliminated by 2005. China will open its Internet and its telecom
markets to American investment and services for the first time. That's
a huge deal.
Now, the magnitude of all this almost defies measurement. The
number of Chinese Internet users -- let's just take that -- quadrupled
in the last year alone, from 2 million to 9 million. This year the
number will exceed 20 million. And you know what the internal dynamics
of this technology are, you know how much your company has grown. Now,
project that rate of growth onto a country that has over 1.2 billion
people. And keep in mind, the United States is not being asked to do
anything to get this agreement, except to treat them like a normal
trading partner on a permanent basis and bring them into the WTO.
So what are we going to do? China doesn't have the information
infrastructure to support 500 million Internet users yet. But UUNet
already has a presence in Hong Kong. You could help them to build it.
Let's look at what happens if we didn't do it. Today we've got a
huge advantage in high-tech trade internationally. What would happen if
we didn't take advantage of this? China will grow anyway and someone
else -- not you -- will reap the benefits of it. So if we turn our
backs on this opportunity, we will be unilaterally disarming in perhaps
the most vital area of our future economic growth.
And let me say, finally, this is about more than money. I saw a
lot of you nodding when I said it was good morally and good economics to
help lift the burden of debt from the poorest African countries if
they're working to try to do better. I saw a lot of you nodding when I
said it was the right thing to do to buy more from the Caribbean and
Latin America countries if they were doing the right thing in opening
their markets to us.
We have a decision to make here. The people who don't to do this
by and large think that China should not be taken into the World Trade
Organization because we don't agree with all their political decisions.
We don't like it when they repress human rights or political rights or
religious expression. We don't agree with them that we should take
little or no account of environmental impacts of economic decisions; or
that we shouldn't take strong steps to eliminate child labor and slave
labor and things like that. We have differences.
But think of this. You know how much the Internet has changed
America. And we were already an open society. I can look out in this
crowd and tell that many of you come from some place else. You know how
much the Internet is changing where you came from and how much it could
change if it were there. The same thing is true in China.
Everything I have learned about human nature in my life, plus
everything I have learned about China as President, convinces me that
we're a lot better off bringing them into the family of nations into
this common endeavor than shutting them out. Do we know what China will
be like in 20 years? Of course we don't. We can't control what they
do; all we can control is what we do. But here again, I think our
values will be advanced, along with our economic interests, if we give
people a chance to be good partners. If you don't give them a chance,
it's almost certain that they will react in a negative way.
So I ask all of you to think about this, because normally,
Americans don't think about foreign policy much, but you know that with
every passing day in a globalized economy, there is no longer a clear,
bright line between an issue which is a domestic political issue and an
issue which is a foreign policy issue.
With every passing day, these issues grow closer together. Do I
like it when people's religious liberty is oppressed in China? No, I
don't. But it's very interesting -- most of the evangelicals I know who
have missions in China want China in the WTO because they know that that
will make it more likely that there will be more freedom of expression,
more contact with the outside world, and a bigger stake in working with
This is about money, yes; but it's about more than money. It's
about whether we can create a world where there's the kind of harmony
across race and ethnicity and religion that there must be in this work
place that I can see just by looking around the room here. Wouldn't you
like it if the world worked the way you do here? (Applause.) How could
it be bad if companies like UUNet are able to make the tools of
communications cheaper and better and more widely available to more
Chinese people? It has to be good.
So I will say to you: I don't agree with everything the Chinese
do. I'm sure they don't agree with everything I do. (Laughter.) And
far be it for me to equate the two disagreements. (Laughter and
applause.) I don't believe -- in all seriousness, I don't believe it's
right to crack down on people for their religious views or their
political expression or because they want to be in an association like
the Falun Gong. I don't think that's right. But I don't believe that
we will have more influence on China by giving them the back of our hand
instead of giving them a chance to build a different future.
That's what this is about. And I want every one of you to think
about this. Look, economically, this is a no-brainer. It's in your
interest. It will make this company a lot more jobs. But I don't ask
you as citizens to check your values at the door. Every one of us
believes in some things that money can't buy.
But I'm telling you -- you just think about what you have learned
in your life about human nature. The leaders of China are not foolish
people, they're intelligent people. They know if they open these
markets, they know if you go in there and everybody gets connected to
the Internet that change is coming more rapidly in ways that you cannot
control, and people will be able to define their future independent of
the government's ability to control it more than ever before -- whether
you're talking about religion or politics or personal life choices or
anything else. They know that. And they have made this decision, and
we cannot let our disagreements with government policy get in the way of
our interest in a long-term partnership with the most populous country
on Earth. So, again, I say, what is good economics is also consistent
with our values.
The late Chief Justice Earl Warren once said that, "Liberty is the
most contagious force in the world." I believe the Internet inevitably
is an instrument of human liberty, and it will be in China as well if we
continue to reach out to people. (Applause.)
So I'm asking you to do something if you agree with this. I want
you to tell the members of Congress without regard to party that
represent your state -- if you live here, if you live in Maryland, you
live in West Virginia -- I want you to ask them to support this. And I
want you to tell them, I want you to tell them that you will stay with
them on this decision if they do, because this is very, very important.
You know, I'm grateful that since I've been President, America has
done well. I'm grateful for the chance I've had to make a contribution
to it. But, frankly, I'm much more interested in whether America
continues to do well long after my tenure in office. And, again, I say
to you, if you know in your business that if you want to keep doing
well, you always have to keep trying to do better; and looking at the
future, anticipating the changes, imagining how you want it to be.
I can't imagine a world that I want for my child and my
grandchildren that doesn't include partnerships that are constructive
with the big countries of the world which promote human liberty, as well
as economic progress. That's what this whole thing is about.
So I say to you, I came here today because you are the symbol of
21st century America. You are the embodiment of what I want for the
future. (Applause.) And because of what you do for a living every day,
because of how you see and feel the way the world is changing and how
you see what it can become, you are in a position that most of your
fellow Americans are not in to understand the importance of this. So,
again, I say to you: you're doing great. I want you to do better. And
I think we can do better and do good, but we have to start this year by
making sure that we don't turn away from this profoundly important
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
END 3:43 P.M. EST