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China: Clinton Trip Focuses On Broadening Ties

  • Robert Lyle

Washington, 24 June 1998 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton is taking his top financial, business development and trade officials on his trip to China to emphasize American interest in putting relations between the two nations on a more solid footing.

But at the same time, says Clinton's National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, the President will speak out more than once on human rights issues in China, including the need for greater religious freedom.

Berger says the U.S. has "a fundamental interest in engagement" with China, but that doesn't necessarily mean the U.S. endorses everything about China or it's policies. "Engagement is a vehicle, is a means to both expand the area of our cooperation and to deal with the Chinese directly, face-to-face, about areas of difference," he told reporters in Washington recently.

Clinton leaves today (Wednesday) for a nine-day official visit to China, the first by an American chief executive and head of state in nearly a decade. He will fly into Xian, China's ancient capital, Thursday evening for a colorful welcome and visits to the great excavations of the terra cotta warriors.

On Saturday, Clinton will arrive in Beijing for an official arrival ceremony on the steps of the Great Hall, next to Tiananmen Square, before going into meetings -- and a working lunch -- with Chinese President Jiang Zemin and Prime Minister Zhu Rongji.

Sunday, Clinton will attend services at Beijing's largest church and afterwards meet with a group of clerics to discuss religious freedom in China.

Next Monday, the President is scheduled to deliver a major speech on U.S.-China relations at Beijing University, where he will also take questions from students and faculty.

Tuesday, June 30, Clinton travels to Shanghai where he will meet with a group of young entrepreneurs to discuss private business development in China. Wednesday, July 1st will find the president meeting with new homeowners who are being assisted by a U.S. sponsored program of mortgage market development. Thursday, the President meets with environmentalists in Guilin, then takes a boat ride down the famous Li River before leaving for Hong Kong.

Clinton will give a speech at the Hong Kong convention center, meet with political leaders, including opposition figures, before leaving for home late Friday night, July 3rd.

Berger says that in all of his discussions, Clinton will focus on a broad range of issues, ranging from encouraging stability in Asia to preventing nuclear proliferation, especially to Pakistan. China has already agreed to stop supplying nuclear technology to Iran.

Berger says Clinton will also discuss China and the U.S. doing more on environmental issues and in combating crime and drug trafficking.

The Director of the President's National Economic Council, Gene Sperling, says that opening of Chinese markets is one of the "cores" of Clinton's economic agenda, and that the President will continue to push China to make the necessary changes to allow it to join the World Trade Organization (WTO).

It is American belief, says Sperling, that "open markets lead to more open systems that bring in more free flow of ideas."

Sperling says China still has "significant" and "very destructive" trade barriers and hasn't made a commitment yet to join the WTO.

U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky, who arrived in China ahead of Clinton, says not to expect any breakthroughs during the visit. Her spokesman, Jay Ziegler, says, however, it is "absolutely critical," that the two sides make some progress in dealing with agriculture, services and industrial goods. Chinese officials complain that they want to buy more American goods, but are blocked by trade sanctions imposed following the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre of students who were demanding more freedom.

There will be some business deals announced during the visit, but not by Clinton. U.S. Commerce Secretary William Daley will take part in various commercial signings, including Chinese purchases of American airliners, a coal-powered electric generating plant, and telephone transmission equipment.

Cooperative projects in the area of private housing development, already underway, will be emphasized and expanded, although they do not provide any great opportunities for American business.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, who is also accompanying Clinton, says that China is expected to be the largest economy in the world by the first half of the next century. So, he says, the U.S. has "an enormous stake in the well-being" of the country.

He says China's recent cooperation with the U.S. and Japan in intervening in currency markets to buoy up the yen -- and keep the Chinese currency stable -- is an example of the importance of economic and financial cooperation.

Bilaterally, he says, the U.S. and China will continue talking about reforms Beijing still needs to push forward on developing a market-based system, including commercializing and privatizing state-owned enterprises, and building a strong banking system.