Washington, 29 October 1997 (RFE/RL) - U.S. President Bill Clinton will formally welcome Chinese President Jiang Zemin in a full-scale head-of-state ceremony on the White House lawn today. But the two leaders will by that time already have had a chat over coffee in Clinton's private quarters.
In a move usually reserved for the closest of allies, Clinton invited Jiang to stroll across Pennsylvania Avenue from Blair House, the presidential guest facility, for a private get-together upstairs in the White House Tuesday evening, just hours after the Chinese President arrived in the U.S. capital, from three days of visiting the U.S. states of Hawaii and Virginia.
White House officials said few others were to be present at the meeting. Jiang speaks fluent English and Clinton wanted to try to establish a personal rapport with the leader of the most populous nation on earth.
It is the first visit to the U.S. by a Chinese leader in 12 years, and the first since the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre of students demonstrating for democracy in Beijing.
The massacre remains a major obstacle to development of full bilateral relations between China and the U.S., say officials. Tiananmen and other humans rights abuses will be raised by Clinton and other American officials during the talks, but is not expected to be the central element of the discussions.
Clinton administration officials have repeatedly said the U.S. must look at the long term process of relations between the two major nations and not allow one aspect or concern to derail the rest.
In a speech on China last week, Clinton said the U.S. wants to encourage the emergence of a China that is stable, open and non-aggressive and that embraces free markets, political pluralism and the rule of law.
Popular protests will serve to underline human rights concerns in the U.S., with so many groups requesting permission to stage protests in the park opposite the White House that police say there is not enough room to accommodate them all.
Protesters in support of a variety of human rights causes, from independence for Tibet, to the ending of strict family planning policies, from supporters of political prisoners in China to those demanding Taiwan be left alone, have been dogging Jiang's steps in the U.S. Waving signs and shouting slogans, groups of up to several hundred have been in evidence wherever Jiang has appeared.
U.S. officials say there is a full slate of issues to be discussed in a day at the White House. Included will be:
Human Rights: U.S. National Security Advisor Sandy Berger says China has a "very bad record" on human rights and other officials have noted many specific examples. They say Jiang will be urged to ease political repression and end restrictions on freedom of speech and association in China. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright announced Tuesday that China has invited three prominent U.S. religious leaders to discuss the climate for religious freedom.
Trade: U.S.-China trade in the first nine months of this year exceeded $39 billion, but American officials are concerned that China sells five times more to the U.S. than it buys from American companies. The U.S, trade deficit is already over $31 billion this year and will probably exceed $50 billion by years end. China has normal trade relations with the U.S., known as Most Favored National (MFN) status, but it must still be renewed each year and is always an occasion for congressional hearings on human rights abuses in China.
Nuclear Proliferation: U.S. officials are hoping to reach agreement with China so that Washington can end its 12-year-old ban on the sale of nuclear technology to Chinese companies. American firms have been pressing to be able to sell nuclear energy technology to the burgeoning Chinese market.
Toward that end, China has promised to stop cooperating with Iran and Pakistan, among others, in nuclear technology, but a number of U.S. congressional leaders have warned Clinton they don't trust the Chinese promise.
The U.S. has long complained about China's willingness to export sophisticated weapons and nuclear technology to countries like Iran that the U.S. believes support terrorism.
International Security Cooperation: American officials have been particularly pleased with China's assistance in dealing with North Korea's nuclear program and want to encourage greater involvement in security issues all around Asia.
Tibet: The thinly populated Himalayan region was independent from China after 1911, but Beijing reimposed control in the 1950s invading the mountain state. The Dalai Lama fled into exile to neighboring India. He thousands of followers have kept alive on the global stage issues of religious freedoms and ethnic rights.
U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has promised to name a "special coordinator" for policy on Tibet. She said Tuesday that a decision on the person has not been made yet but will be announced before the end of the month.
The U.S. recognizes Tibet as being part of China and does not support claims for its independence. But top U.S. officials, including Albright have expressed concern about the preservation of Tibet's unique religious and cultural heritage and China's human rights violations there,
Taiwan: U.S. official policy supports the idea of one China, technically considering the island to be part of the mainland. But unofficially, the U.S. has maintained a policy of support for Taiwan for more than 40 years, and has a full panoply of commercial and cultural relations. The U.S. State Department says it is a unique relationship describing it as "people-to-people ties."
The question remains a sensitive one in U.S.-Chinese diplomacy. Protesters supporting an end to the one China policy are heavily among those marching all around the Jiang visit.
Bilateral Relations: A broad number of issues will be dealt with under this heading, from global efforts against drug traffic to environmental clean-up. Officials say among other things, agreement is expected on a Washington-Beijing hotline. These direct links between leaders have become the norm in international relations.
Jiang will be welcomed to the White House in a ceremony, followed by a reception and first meeting with Clinton in the Oval Office. Jiang will go to the State Department for a luncheon hosted by U.S. Vice President Al Gore. The Chinese president will then return to the White House for a second round of discussions with Clinton. The two presidents will then hold a joint press conference.
Later in the day, Jiang will hold a series of meetings with various officials, including senior congressional leaders, U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and World Bank President James Wolfensohn.
In the evening, Jiang will be the guest of honor at a formal state dinner at the White House.