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Clinton pushes rights in China; substance lacking, critics say

WASHINGTON (BP)–President Clinton promoted an American view of human rights in two events televised nationally in China during the early days of his controversial trip to the communist power.
Clinton, who has been criticized intensely for what critics describe as a policy of appeasement toward a government with widespread human rights abuses, also described as wrong the 1989 massacre of hundreds, possibly thousands, of pro-democracy demonstrators at Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Clinton’s visit is the first by an American president to China since the Chinese army’s violent crackdown on the protesters.
While White House officials praised Clinton’s June 27 exchange with Chinese President Jiang Zemin, critics called the president’s statements lacking in substance.
“For all of our agreements, we still disagree about the meaning of what happened” at Tiananmen Square in 1989, Clinton said, according to a transcript of the news conference after a meeting between the two leaders in Beijing. “I believe, and the American people believe, that the use of force and the tragic loss of life was wrong. I believe, and the American people believe, that freedom of speech, association and religion are, as recognized by U.N. charter, the right of people everywhere and should be protected by their governments,” he said as Jiang stood several feet to his side at a microphone.
In a June 29 speech and question-and-answer session with students at Beijing University, the president said, according to a transcript, “Today we do not seek to impose our vision on others, but we are convinced that certain rights are universal — not American rights or European rights or rights for developed nations, but the birthrights of people everywhere, now enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, the right to be treated with dignity, the right to express one’s opinions, to choose one’s own leaders, to associate freely with others and to worship, or not, freely, however one chooses.”
Between the events, Clinton and his family attended a worship service June 28 at Chongwenmen Church, a government-registered congregation in Beijing. More than 2,000 people attended the service, according to news reports. The president spoke for no more than three minutes to those attending, saying, “We celebrate with you the growth of the practice of our faith” in the world’s most populous country.
Churches, both registered and unregistered, continue to grow, according to Christian and human rights organizations.
Both the news conference and the university speech were shown live nationally on government-controlled television with Jiang’s approval.
A critic from Clinton’s own party, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D.-Calif., told The New York Times, “On human rights President Clinton has said just enough for U.S. domestic consumption and not enough to produce results for the Chinese people.”
The meeting was a victory for Jiang, who made few concessions but “has accrued all the benefits of standing side by side with the president of the United States,” Pelosi said.
Gary Bauer, president of Family Research Council and an outspoken critic of the White House’s approach to China, called the Clinton-Jiang news conference “one small step forward, but it does little to correct a basically failed China policy.”
In a June 29 opinion piece for USA Today, Bauer again decried Clinton’s delinking of human rights from America’s policy toward China.
“There’s reason to believe China’s government will respond in a positive fashion if it believes we are serious,” Bauer wrote. “In 1990 and 1991, when China’s rulers thought they might lose their most-favored-nation trade status, they released 800 political prisoners and promised to ban exports of goods produced by slave labor. It’s time to engage China seriously on human rights” and other issues, he said.
Some critics called for Clinton to cancel his trip in the midst of questions about White House approval of missile technology transfers to China, the Asian giant’s sale of nuclear materials to rogue countries and Chinese contributions to the Democratic Party in the 1996 elections, as well as the Chinese government’s targeting of United States cities with nuclear missiles. Critics also blasted the president’s willingness to be received at Tiananmen Square and decried his decision not to meet with dissidents while in China.
At the news conference, the leaders announced an agreement not to target nuclear weapons at each other.
Before his trip, evangelical, Jewish and other religious leaders called for Clinton to urge China’s leaders to release those imprisoned for practicing their faith. An interfaith letter to that effect was signed by more than 250 religious leaders, including Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Richard Land and three-time SBC President Adrian Rogers, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in suburban Memphis, Tenn. The letter effort was directed by the Washington-based Center for Jewish and Christian Values.
While Clinton largely refrained from criticism of China’s human rights record in his speech to university students, his exchange with Jiang reflected differences of opinion over not only human rights and the Tiananmen massacre but China’s handling of Tibet.
According to a transcript, Jiang repeated his defense of the government’s handling of the Tiananmen protests, saying as he did during his 1997 visit to the United States that “had the Chinese government not taken the resolute measures, then we could not have enjoyed the stability that we are enjoying today.”
Clinton said, “There are some people imprisoned for nonviolent activities in June of ’89 (at Tiananmen Square). Is there something that could be done there?”
The president also said he made his views known to Jiang about the Chinese government’s detention of dissidents before and during the current trip.
Even though government repression of various religious adherents has been documented, Jiang said “freedom of religious belief in Tibet, and also throughout China, is protected” by China’s constitution. He said as long as the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, “can publicly make the statement and commitment that Tibet is an inalienable part of China … then the door to dialogue and negotiation is open.”
Clinton agreed Tibet is a part of China and said he understood why such an acknowledgment would be necessary for dialogue between Jiang and the Dalai Lama. He said if the Dalai Lama “had a conversation with President Jiang, they would like each other very much.”