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Copyright 1998 The Washington Post  
The Washington Post

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June 28, 1998, Sunday, Final Edition


LENGTH: 1717 words

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 external criticism.

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.

Administration 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. "Sandy" Berger. "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 choice."

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 it does 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.

While 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 in his 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 been in 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 export of "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 protests.

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 parishioners, "I believe that Chinese and Americans are brothers and sisters as children of God."

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 pocketbooks.

"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.

Some 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.


LOAD-DATE: June 28, 1998

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