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Copyright 1998 The Washington Post
The Washington Post
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June 28, 1998, Sunday, Final Edition
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HEADLINE: Summit Debate Buoys U.S. Hopes; Chinese Broadcast Hailed as Sign of Change
BYLINE: John F. Harris; John Pomfret, Washington Post Staff Writers
DATELINE: BEIJING, June 28 (Sunday)
Hours after an uncommonly forthright public exchange between President Clinton
and Chinese President Jiang Zemin, Clinton administration officials were
predicting a new chapter in U.S.-China relations that they said could lead to breakthroughs on such nettlesome
long-term problems as missile proliferation and
repression of Tibet.
The buoyancy, even boastfulness, in the U.S. delegation here today came less
from a series of limited agreements reached on arms control and other subjects
in Saturday's summit meeting than from the unprecedented openness Beijing
authorities exhibited by broadcasting a Clinton-Jiang
news conference live to the Chinese public.
It was a dramatic moment for a regime that customarily has crushed internal
dissent and methodically tried to insulate its population from exposure to
The Chinese population heard Clinton and Jiang debate such issues as human
rights, the lethal crackdown on
pro-democracy demonstrators nine years ago in Beijing's Tiananmen Square and
the possibility of a rapprochement between Beijing and the Dalai Lama, the
exiled spiritual leader of Tibet. In a wide-ranging, often philosophical
discussion, the two leaders agreed occasionally and disagreed often.
But a smiling Jiang projected little of the denial and defensiveness that he
and predecessors have shown on such occasions in the past, including at Jiang's
summit in Washington last October. Several times he invited Clinton to respond
to his assertions; such unscripted moments stretched a planned half-hour
appearance at the Great Hall of the People into a 70-minute affair.
Later, the surprisingly spontaneous chemistry between the two leaders was again
on display at a state dinner in the same imposing edifice astride Tiananmen
Square. Dining on shark's fin in
soy sauce and grilled beef steak, Clinton and Jiang toasted each other. And
both leaders took turns conducting the Military Band of the People's Liberation
Army -- an image sure to rankle U.S. critics who assert that Clinton is cozying
too closely with a Communist dictatorship.
officials, who in recent weeks were put repeatedly on the defensive by a wide
array of voices urging a tougher line against Beijing, went quickly on the
offensive to trumpet what they called a vindication of their approach.
"The summit today and the press conference which followed I
believe demonstrate more graphically than anything we could possibly have said
that the premise we have been proceeding along is correct," said White House national security adviser Samuel R.
"I hope that those who are critical of the relationship at home will see that
through engagement you can get a
lot of serious things done and promote America's values and maybe even advance
the process of change in China all at the same time -- these are not multiple
Michel Oksenberg, a professor of Chinese politics at Stanford University, said
both the rapport between the leaders and the
fact that the Chinese public saw the news conference -- at which Clinton
bluntly criticized the Tiananmen massacre -- was remarkable.
"I think it would be hard for the American public to appreciate how significant
this is," he said.
"Jiang Zemin has performed a courageous act. . . . It's an extraordinary act and
make this an extraordinary trip."
The fact that the event was aired live in China was even more surprising
because for weeks Chinese officials had stalled on this question, indicating to
the U.S. team that it was unlikely Clinton would be able to speak directly to a
mass audience in China.
George Bush made unprovocative remarks to a televised audience when he came to
China in 1989, that was before the Tiananmen crackdown.
"There was not this rancorous dimension of the relationship at that time," Oksenberg said.
U.S. officials said the summit was a sign that Jiang, 71, has grown more secure
leadership in the 16 months since paramount leader Deng Xiaoping died. Since
then he has consolidated control of the government, especially in foreign
affairs, and he referred repeatedly Saturday to the
"partnership" he wants with the United States.
For all the memorable atmosphere, the actual summit agreements hardly clinched
Berger's argument that the
U.S.-China relationship is now on a
"solid and higher level of cooperation."
In fact, months of painstaking negotiations that ended only hours before
Saturday morning's Jiang-Clinton talks produced a mixed bag of disappointments
and modest gains. Clinton gave the most attention to
an agreement that the United States and China no longer target nuclear missiles
at each other.
The agreement -- in part symbolic, since missiles can be quickly retargeted --
indicated a shift in Chinese attitudes. Previously, Beijing had insisted that
the United States make a
no-first-use pledge on nuclear weapons like the one China extracted from Russia
to win a similar detargeting agreement; this weekend, that demand was dropped.
The United States opposes a no-first-use pledge because Washington is obligated
by treaties to protect Japan and its NATO
allies in Europe. Thirteen of China's 18 intercontinental missiles are aimed at
the United States, compared with a vastly larger U.S. arsenal.
The United States did not persuade China formally to join the Missile
Technology Control Regime, which seeks to curb proliferation of missile
capability to smaller
nations around the world. But in what administration officials insisted was a
hopeful sign, the Chinese did agree to
"actively study" whether to join later this year.
Other efforts brought even fewer results. One administration official said U.S.
Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky's weeks-long
effort to press the Chinese to lower trade barriers -- the United States says
it has a $ 49.7 billion annual trade deficit with China -- was an exercise in
futility. The Chinese summarily rejected her proposal for a slight opening of
China's financial services and telecommunications industries. This would have
exchange for a mild statement that the United States thought negotiations for
China's long-sought entry into the World Trade Organization were continuing
apace. Far from being advanced by the summit, the issue is no closer to
resolution than it was months ago.
There were agreements for China to expand its
list of substances that will be controlled under an agreement to restrict the
"dual-use" chemicals with both commercial and military applications. On another
proliferation issue, the two nations agreed on a policy of allowing U.S.
"end-use" visits to China to ensure that dual-use
technology exports are not being misused.
On Tibet, Jiang said as long as the Dalai Lama agreed that Tibet should not be
independent of China,
"the door to dialogue and negotiation is open" for expanding freedom in the province. Clinton, in a cheery closing line to
the news conference, said he
thinks if Jiang and the spiritual leader could meet
"they would like each other very much."
Clinton had other visits with senior Chinese officials Saturday, including a
luncheon with Premier Zhu Rongji to discuss the Asian economic crisis. At the
state dinner, Clinton shared a cocktail-party greeting with
former premier Li Peng, who had ordered the army to put down the Tiananmen
This morning, the president, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and daughter
Chelsea attended services at Beijing's massive Chongwenmen Church, established
in 1870 as the first American Methodist-Episcopal church
in northern China. Speaking briefly from the pulpit, the president told
"I believe that Chinese and Americans are brothers and sisters as children of
In the past, U.S. officials have demanded that China release dissidents. The
human rights group Amnesty International says China still has 2,000 political
prisoners, about 250 of whom are in jail for their participation in the
Tiananmen protests. In their news conference, Clinton said he urged Jiang to
consider releasing at least those imprisoned for acts that are no longer
regarded as crimes in China.
But he did not frame the rights issue
principally in terms of American concepts of individual liberty -- appeals the
Chinese typically have not taken well. Instead, he appealed to Chinese
"So the question for all societies, going forward into the 21st century, is,
which is the better gamble?" Clinton asked Jiang.
"If you have a lot of personal freedom,
some people may abuse it. But if you are so afraid of personal freedom . . .
that you limit people's freedom too much, then you pay . . . an even greater
price in a world where the whole economy is based on ideas and information and
exchange and debate."
In his state dinner toast last
night, Jiang offered a decidedly different perspective:
"China and the U.S. differ in social system, ideology, cultural tradition and
historical background, and are at different stages of economic development. It
is nothing strange that they should have some differences of views on certain
subjects. What is important is that the common interests
between the two sides far outweigh their differences."
In Washington, Republicans were generally restrained in their criticism. Senate
Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), in Saturday's
weekly Republican radio address, said many GOP colleagues were
"concerned about the symbolism" of
a presidential trip to China in the light of recent controversies over military
technology transfers and Chinese links to campaign fund-raising controversies.
"Nevertheless . . . while he is in that country we should put our differences on
hold until his return and hope that his trip is a success," Thompson said.
others were more openly critical.
"The 'constructive engagement' is for Fortune 500 companies who want to make a
bundle of profits in China," said Joel Segal, the American director of the
Free China Movement, a coalition of more than 30 Chinese dissident groups both in
China and outside it.
"There are 250 people still in jails from Tiananmen Square. Has constructive
engagement released them? Absolutely not."
Staff writer Joby Warrick in Washington contributed to this report.
GRAPHIC: PH,,AP/J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE, As the Clintons watch, President Jiang Zemin takes
a turn leading the Military Band of the People's Liberation Army at a state
dinner in Beijing.
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