Washington, 28 October 1997 (RFE/RL) - In eight days of travel across the breadth of the United States, Chinese President Jiang Zemin will see many things, but most especially the extent to which Americans can, and do, publicly protest any top official.
U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright joined other senior American officials in saying there will be nothing beyond normal security restraints on protests staged during Jiang's visit.
Albright told a television interview program Sunday that the Chinese leader "will probably see what America's really like, that it's great to have a country where people can express their views."
She said that if Chinese officials are "not prepared for it, they ought to be because I think Americans feel very strongly" about issues like human rights.
Albright added that Americans also "feel very strongly about having some relationship with China" but acknowledged that there is an ambivalence among the American people about how to relate to "what is clearly a fascinating country with a great mystery that will be part of our future no matter what."
There is no ambivalence among more than a dozen groups which have already begun to stage protests at Jiang's first stops in Honolulu, Hawaii and Williamsburg, Virginia.
Outside a formal dinner hosted by the state governor of Hawaii Sunday, more than 200 protestors shouted "Free Tibet" and "Human Rights Now." At the same time, two days ahead of his arrival in Washington, D.C., nine demonstrators were arrested for refusing to end their protest on the sidewalk immediately in front of the White House. Protesting groups are restricted to the sidewalks and a public park across the street from the presidential mansion.
At least a dozen groups, ranging from Amnesty International to the Catholic Alliance, will be staging candlelight vigils, public demonstrations and protests that will be within Jiang's sight and hearing Wednesday and Thursday in Washington.
To underscore the public protests, several congressional leaders, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (r-North Carolina) have arranged meetings with Chinese dissidents during Jiang's time in the U.S. capital city.
Helms will meet with a group of dissidents while Senator Tim Hutchinson (R-Arkansas) will meet with dissident Harry Wu. The Congressional Human Rights Caucus is also planning a public meeting with the Congressional Working Group on China and the International Campaign for Tibet to highlight the plight of Tibetan and Chinese prisoners of conscience.
Press conferences have been scheduled by protest groups nearly hourly for the next two days in Washington to keep attention focused on their concerns.
The wife of dissident Liu Nianchun, who is being held in a labor camp, said in Beijing that she wrote directly to U.S. President Bill Clinton last week to ask him to give her letter to Jiang when they meet Wednesday at the White House.
The White House says Clinton will raise human rights concerns, but will not make them the "focus" of his summit with Jiang.
Religious groups in the U.S. are in the forefront of much of the protests. The President of the Family Research council, Gary Bauer, told a press conference in Washington Monday that U.S. corporate interests "eager for Chinese profits" are winning out over human rights concerns in China. He accused Clinton of handing the Chinese leader everything Beijing wants without demanding concessions in return.
But Clinton's national security advisor, Sandy Berger, says there is no illusion at the White House that China has "a very bad record" on human rights and political freedom issues.
However, he says, the U.S. relationship with China must be broader than just one issue and that human rights and trade are not mutually exclusive. When the U.S. is engaged with China through a broad range of commercial activities, over time, he said, those contacts with the west tend to have a "liberalizing effect."