Washington, 24 October 1997 (RFE/RL) - The U.S. says it views the pending state visit of Chinese President Jiang Zemin as a "first step" toward eliminating the tension that has marked Sino-American relations for nearly a decade.
For Jiang, China experts say the trip to the country that Beijing considers the most important in the world gives him the chance to validate his position as head of state and leader of the Communist Party.
Jeffrey Bader, the director of Asian Affairs for the U.S. National Security Council, says expectations for the visit are high in some quarters, but he also says there are many questions about what China and the U.S. might achieve next week.
Bader told reporters this week that improving the Sino-American relationship is a long term process. He said: "This is not a relationship whose problems are going to be solved in one visit, no matter how important. This is a first step."
The history of official U.S. relations with China's communist government is short. The U.S. refused to recognize the Chinese communists when they seized power in 1949. Washington followed that policy until February 1972 when President Richard Nixon made his "journey for peace" to Beijing. That visit began a process of normalization that culminated in 1979, when the U.S. accorded formal recognition to China.
Sino-American ties blossomed throughout the 1970s and 1980s. But the National Security Council's Bader conceded that U.S.-Chinese relations have been "troubled" since 1989 -- specifically June 3 and 4, 1989 -- when Chinese troops massacred hundreds of pro-democracy students and jailed thousands more who were demonstrating peacefully in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.
While there was a shakeup in the Party leadership after the massacre, and while China's paramount leader, Deng Xiao Peng, is now dead, there are many in the U.S. who feel that there has been no improvement in the Chinese government. Many human rights activists assert that conditions for dissidents and members of religious minorities are even worse.
In fact, labor leaders, religious leaders, human rights campaigners, supporters of Tibetan Buddhists and nationalists, and students plan to greet Jiang with protest demonstrations at every stop he makes.
Chinese Embassy spokesman Yu Shuning admitted to concerns about the expected protests. He told the press this week that China hopes that, "the U.S. government will do a good job so that these so-called dissidents will not realize the aim of disrupting this state visit of President Jiang and will not disrupt the development of Sino-U.S. relations."
Both the White House and State Department replied that freedom of expression was a guaranteed right in the U.S. and that there were no plans to curb demonstrators.
Jiang's visit to the United States is the first by a Chinese president in 12 years. His trip begins Sunday on the Pacific Ocean island state of Hawaii. Jiang is scheduled to visit seven American cities, including Washington, where he will have talks with President Bill Clinton on Wednesday.
Bader says there is a "range of issues in eight or nine different areas," that Clinton and Jiang plan to talk about. He says they fall under the general headings of security, economy and human rights. Said Bader: "We expect to look for areas where we can cooperate and we will address our differences candidly. "
The U.S., he said, is looking "for concrete achievements during this visit, but we do not overestimate what can be achieved, given the number of problems in the relationship."
He also said the U.S. wants to establish a regular schedule for summit meetings. President Clinton is scheduled to visit China in 1998, but no specific date has been set yet.
Prof. Harry Harding, the dean of the Elliott School of International Affairs at Washington's George Washington University, says Jiang "has his own personal political agenda," for the visit.
Harding told reporters that Jiang wants "to gain political capital from this." He also said that, "from the Chinese perspective, there is no more important relationship than that with the United States, bar none."
He said China wants a stable, constructive and cooperative relationship with the United States. The issue, he said, "will be what Jiang Zemin is prepared to bring to the table in order to help build that constructive and cooperative relation.
The first leg of Jiang's journey, the trip from Beijing to Hawaii, is about 8,200 kilometers. Following his stop on the island, Jiang will fly another 9,000 kilometers east to visit the historic town of Williamsburg in the Atlantic Coast state of Virginia on Monday. He is to arrive in Washington late in the day on Tuesday to prepare for his formal welcome at the White House the next day.
The Chinese president will spend two days in the U.S. capital. On Thursday, Oct. 30, he is to meet with the leaders of the U.S. Congress and deliver what the Chinese embassy calls a major speech to the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations.
From Washington, Jiang moves north to the city of Philadelphia, followed by a trip to New York where he will see the New York Stock Exchange and have talks with prominent businessmen. On Nov. 1, a Saturday, he will go to Harvard University in Massachusetts to deliver another speech, and from there he will fly West, back to the Pacific Coast and Los Angeles, where he will visit an American high technology corporation. From California, Jiang will leave for home on November 2.