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Western Press Review: Clinton Risks High Stakes, Modest Rewards On China Trip

By Don Hill/Dora Slaba/Lisa Kammerud

Prague, 25 June 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Skepticism and hope compete in Western press commentary on U.S. President Bill Clinton's week-long China visit starting today.

NEW YORK TIMES: The cause of human rights will be poorer if Clinton squanders it

The New York Times worries in an editorial today that Clinton will give insufficient emphasis during the trip to human rights issues. The Times says: "We would feel more confident about the lasting value of President Clinton's trip to China (if he would learn from) Ronald Reagan's extraordinary visit to the Soviet Union in 1988. (Reagan) knew that one of the important powers of a traveling president is the right to speak plainly in lands unaccustomed to open debate. Bill Clinton has the same luxury. The cause of human rights will be poorer if he squanders it."

The editorial concludes: "Of course China cannot be viewed through a single lens, and of course there will be other important issues on the president's agenda in the next nine days. But the Chinese leadership has already profited greatly from his visit. His very presence is an affirmation of Beijing's growing power. The Chinese are certainly strong enough to hear straight talk on American values and a presidential statement of solidarity with the democrats in Chinese society. A show of presidential will would not disrupt the trip. It might even make it memorable."

DIE WELT: Are relations founded on a durable foundation?

In Die Welt, Bonn, commentator Manfred Rowald evokes not 1988's President Reagan in Moscow but 1972's President Richard Nixon in China. Since the Nixon visit, Rowald writes, "the United States has been aiming at a constructive relationship with the world's most populous nation, which is increasingly seen as an economic, military and political superpower of the 21st century.

"But the bloody suppression of the pro-democracy demonstrations on Beijing's Tiananmen Square in June 1989 raised the question of whether relations between the two countries have a durable foundation for mutual benefit and trust, or will be hampered by vastly different value systems and interests. It is this question that President Bill Clinton will be trying to answer in the sense of a necessary strategic partnership."

LA REPUBBLICA: In traveling to Peking Clinton recognizes the importance of China's role

The Italian newspaper La Repubblica editorializes: "Clinton has said quite openly why he is traveling to China in spite of all the criticism in his own country. When the stock exchanges shake in Hongkong and Tokyo then you can feel the tremors in Wall Street. And China's behavior can contribute to a stabilization. (Also) it is Clinton's view that China could halt the proliferation of atomic bombs, maybe because it has influence on a country like Pakistan which is running an open and dangerous race with India. In traveling to Peking Clinton recognizes the importance of China's role and simultaneously he is also strengthening this role."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: What are the standards to decide the success of the visit?

"How should one judge the trip to China that President Clinton is embarking on?" asks Los Angeles Times foreign policy specialist Jim Mann. "What are the standards by which to decide whether his eight days in the Middle Kingdom are a success?"

The writer offers a two-part answer: "Tiananmen Square -- Will Clinton clearly denounce China's bloody crackdown on Tiananmen Square demonstrations in 1989 and call for what the Chinese term a 'reversal of verdict' about what happened?" And "U.S. Policy in Asia -- Will Clinton make it sound as though the United States puts greater importance on its ties with China than with any other country in the region?"

NEW YORK TIMES: Redefining the relationship between the two nations will serve as a proof of the summit's success

New York Times writer John M. Broder addresses the same question. He writes: "Aware of (U.S.-China tensions), the White House has been trying to make the case that the success of the visit ought to be measured not in the number of agreements reached or documents signed -- they will be relatively few and modest -- but in whether Clinton and President Jiang Zemin can subtly redefine the relationship between the two nations."

Several newspapers analyze the impact of a statement this week by a former Communist `Party general secretary criticizing the Chinese leadership's position on the 1989 Tiananmen Swuare massacre.

TIMES: Zhao Ziyang has revived the issue of Tiananmen Square

In The Times, London, James Pringle writes from Beijing: "In an embarrassing move for President Jiang Zemin on the eve of the arrival in China today of President Clinton, a former Chinese Communist leader is reported to have called the Tiananmen Square massacre 'one of the biggest human rights problems this century.' Zhao Ziyang, 78, (has revived) the issue of the June 1989 killings at a delicate time for China's leaders. They had been hoping that, with Mr Clinton's high-profile welcoming ceremony in Tiananmen Square, they had quelled international outrage and put the issue behind them."

WASHINGTON POST: Zhao 'must accept party discipline'

A Washington Post analysis by Steven Mufson says: "Zhao's letter will likely irritate Jiang, who replaced Zhao as Communist Party chief in 1989. Zhao made a similar plea to Communist Party leaders last September during an important party congress, and Jiang, in an interview last October, sternly said that Zhao 'must accept party discipline.' Despite his age, Zhao is still considered a potential force capable of rallying reformers within the party."

NEW YORK TIMES: Zhao has also risked further punishment

Seth Faison writes from Shanghai in The New York Times: "For a former Communist Party leader to confront the leadership so openly, and on such a sensitive political issue, is extraordinary in China. Yet it may reflect Zhao's confidence that the party's position is squarely on the wrong side of history, and that the vast majority of Chinese people agree with him. By trying to provoke debate within the party on the events of June 4, 1989, when the military killed hundreds of demonstrators who had been protesting in Tiananmen Square for seven weeks, Zhao has also risked further punishment. Two ex-officials who know Zhao, and who attested to the letter's authenticity, said he intended that it both be read by party leaders and circulated in Beijing."

LE REPUBLICAIN LORRAIN: This tour constitutes Bill Clinton's most perilous diplomatic exercise

A commentary by Philippe Waucampt in the French newspaper Le Republicain Lorrain says today that Clinton's visit carries diplomatic dangers. It says: "This Chinese tour constitues in effect Bill Clinton's most perilous diplomatic exercise since coming to power." The editorial continues, "Conscious of the new responsibilities of China, Bill Clinton will search, these next days, to convince his fellow citizens to no longer see this ancient civilization through the deformed prism of Hollywood."