Washington, 30 October 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The first U.S.-China summit in 12 years ended Wednesday with agreements on important issues -- nuclear non-proliferation, regional peace-making cooperation, regular summits, expanded high-level cooperation, increased trade, and new environmental coordination.
But Presidents Jiang Zemin and Bill Clinton, while proclaiming a new era of China-U.S. cooperation, demonstrated publicly as well that they have strongly different views on human rights questions.
It happened at a joint press conference the two presidents held following nearly two hours of White House meetings.
In his prepared remarks, Clinton said China would enjoy more growth and stability if it embraced more fully the political as well as economic aspirations of its people.
U.S. officials say Clinton and Jiang had an extensive discussion on human rights during their informal chat over coffee upstairs in the presidential living quarters Tuesday night, so were well aware of each others views before the formal meetings on Wednesday.
Officials said the formal sessions did not review much of the human rights ground the two leaders had already covered, but reporters kept returning to the area at the press conference.
"We have profound disagreements there," Clinton told journalists. "But that doesn't mean ... we don't have a big interest in continuing to work together."
Asked about the 1989 Tiananmen Square shooting of students demonstrating for democracy in China, Jiang called the massacre "a political disturbance" that disrupted China's social stability and jeopardized its security. The party and state have "long drawn the correct conclusion on this political disturbance," he said.
Clinton shot back that the U.S. has "a very different view of the meaning of the events at Tiananment Square." He said Beijing's "continuing reluctance" to tolerate political dissent has kept China from winning the political support around the world it would otherwise have had.
Other nations are learning they can draw stability from differences among citizens which can provide a coherence of loyalty to a nation -- as in accepting election results, said Clinton.
Jiang responded, saying China and the U.S. are thousands of miles apart geographically, with different historic and cultural traditions and different values. Concepts on democracy, human rights and freedoms are "relative," he said, "to be determined by the specific national situation" of a country."
Noting the number of protesters he had seen in the U.S. in the first four days of his visit -- "sometimes noises came into my ears," was the way he described them -- he offered the old Chinese saying that "seeing something once is better than hearing about it 100 times."
The U.S. President couldn't let that go. While China is often on the right side of history, said Clinton, on Tiananmen Square and human rights, "we believe the policy of (China) is on the wrong side of history -- there is, after all, now a universal declaration of human rights."
U.S. Secretary of State Madelein Albright says the public exchange reflected the intense discussions the two leaders had in private. They haven't exactly developed a warm, personal chemistry between them, one official acknowledged, but on the other hand, they have found a way to work well together without letting fundamental differences get in the way.
White House National Security Advisor Sandy Berger said he doubted Jiang had ever faced a public debate like that before, but that the American-Chinese relationship has grown beyond just talking about human rights.
"Human rights is very important," he said. But so is trying to prevent war in Korea, preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons, and developing trade between these two major nations.
Added Albright: "We're going to engage, but engagement is not endorsement."
Among the agreements concluded during the summit were Chinese assurances that it has ended all cooperation with Iran on nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction. Clinton said those assurances were sufficient for him to lift the U.S. ban on American companies selling nuclear power generating technology to China.
The U.S. and China have also agreed on a broad expansion of consultations and cooperation, starting with regular summit meetings, a hotline communications link between Washington and Beijing, greatly expanded coordination among cabinet ministers, and increased security consultation, including stepped up contacts between U.S. and Chinese military leaders.
U.S. and Chinese officials agreed that it had been a very productive summit. Ziang meets with U.S. congressional leaders Thursday morning and speaks to the Asian Society before leaving Washington for Philadelphia later in the day.