Jimmy Carter Denies Obama’s Remarks, Says China Not A ‘Free-Rider’

Jimmy Carter told China Central Television that he believes the relationship between China and the U.S. needs to be based on mutual respect. Former President Carter later attempts to deny that President Obama meant to call China a “free-rider,” and the phrase wasn’t representative of the U.S. government. That denial might be difficult to believe.

President Obama’s comments come from an interview with Thomas Friedman of the New York Times. When discussing Iraq, the op-ed columnist points out that China is the biggest energy investor in the war-torn country, while at the same time the pressure is mostly on the U.S. to secure Iraq’s future.

When Friedman asks, “Do you say to them or want to say to them [China], it’s time you become a stake-holder in this system and not a free-rider?”

The President responds, “I do say that to them, and they are free-riders. And they’ve been free-riders for the past 30 years and its worked really well for them.”

The interview tested relations between the two superpowers, with Chinese media claiming that the label was simply an excuse for the failed U.S. policy in Iraq.

Jimmy Carter believes that either the well-documented quote was not really what the administration thought, or was somehow misinterpreted.

In an interview with the China Central Television, ex-president Carter said, “I don’t agree with a phrase like free-rider and I think… perhaps the news media misinterpreted what he said.”

In any case, Jimmy Carter believes that whatever differences exist, it’s much more important to concentrate on what China and the U.S. have in common.

“It’s much more important that we have trade and commerce between our business and professional communities and also that we have tourists that can go back and forth.”

Former President Carter has a large stake in the China-U.S. relationship. His administration first formally recognized the People’s Republic of China in January 1st, 1979, after the Nixon administration worked to establish diplomatic ties earlier that decade. Jimmy Carter even received Deng Xiaoping (see photograph above), the Chinese leader most attributed to China’s economic rise.

Carter also toured Research and Development Centre in Shanghai owned by ZTE, one of China’s largest smartphone maker, where he said, “During this 35th anniversary of the normalization of U.S.–China relations, it is good to know of the partnerships between ZTE and American telecommunications companies.”

Although Jimmy Carter’s denial is difficult to believe, the interview opened up the larger debate about what role, if any, China should play in Iraq and on the world stage.

[Image Credit: Schumacher, Karl H./Wikimedia Commons]