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Jiang, amid protests & questions, defends China on human rights

WASHINGTON (BP)–Protests and, at times, pointed questions greeted Chinese President Jiang Zemin during his state visit to the United States, but the leader of the communist giant consistently defended his government’s actions on human rights.
Jiang, the first Chinese leader to visit this country since the Beijing government’s 1989 massacre of dissenters at Tiananmen Square, made gains for his regime in its relationship with the United States but failed to satisfy the concerns of critics during his Oct. 28-30 visit to Washington.
After their summit meeting Oct. 29, President Clinton announced he would allow American companies to export equipment to Chinese nuclear power plants. In return, China agreed to limit arms exports to and nuclear cooperation with Iran. Clinton also said he would visit China next year and there would be a presidential hotline established between their offices.
The two presidents, however, disagreed in the same news conference over the Tiananmen Square crackdown, and Clinton raised human rights concerns in private. At a meeting with congressional leaders the next day, Jiang denied his government was guilty of an assortment of human rights abuses.
Meanwhile, for four days in Washington, protesters from a variety of political and religious perspectives demonstrated against Jiang and against the Clinton administration’s handling of the Chinese government.
Criticism of the Beijing government has focused increasingly in recent years on its persecution of Christians and other religious adherents. In recent weeks, charges have intensified of Chinese execution of prisoners in order to sell their organs for transplant to people in other countries, including the United States. These, as well as the totalitarian state’s imprisonment of dissidents in labor camps, its one-child policy resulting in forced abortions and its repression in Tibet, brought questions from lawmakers and protests from citizens.
At a closed-door meeting with the leadership and other members of Congress Oct. 30, Jiang said “the Chinese people have enjoyed a much better life, and (China) has intensified efforts to improve democracy and the legal system,” The Washington Times reported.
Under sometimes tough questioning, Jiang reportedly gave no ground and provided no satisfaction.
“He denied there was religious persecution, he denied that there was a denial of political (rights) and rights of speech, he denied there was forced abortion, he denied there was international sale of organs from executed prisoners, all of which were raised,” said Rep. Richard Gephardt, D.-Mo., House of Representatives minority leader, The Washington Post reported.
Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., told The Times, “He told whoppers today. He told big, big lies today.
“He was profoundly unpersuasive. The more he talked, I would look around the room and I thought, ‘It’s not working.'”
House Majority Whip Tom Delay boycotted the meeting in protest of China’s continued persecution of Christians and others.
In a luncheon speech the same day to foreign policy organizations and business leaders, Jiang said, “Before adequate food and clothing is ensured for the people, the enjoyment of other rights would be out of the question,” according to The Post.
Protests against Jiang, which took place even when he visited Williamsburg, Va., and Philadelphia, culminated in an Oct. 29 demonstration across the street from the White House. While the focus often was on China’s treatment of Tibet, more than 1,000 people in Lafayette Park heard from a variety of speakers, from liberal members of Congress like Sen. Paul Wellstone, D.-Minn., and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D.-Calif., to labor leader John Sweeney, head of the AFL-CIO, to human rights activists such as actor Richard Gere and Bianca Jagger to Chinese dissidents such as Harry Wu to conservatives Gary Bauer and Rep. Frank Wolf, R.-Va.
Bauer, president of the Family Research Council, told the crowd near the end of the rally he had been doing news interviews for an hour, “and the media is obsessed with the unusual nature of this coalition. But my friends, I would rather be in this unusual coalition than the other unusual coalition, the one that brings together American capitalists and Chinese communists, the coalition that now includes the man from Hope, Ark., and the butcher of Beijing.
“And I would like to suggest to you that this debate, while it’s focused on China and Tibet and human rights, is really a debate about the United States. It’s debate about who we are and what we believe. … This is a debate about whether the political elites of America and the foreign policy elites have the courage and the energy and the determination to stand for American values as we go into the next century,” Bauer said.
“I will never forget, and I know you will never forget, what happened eight years ago in Tiananmen Square. The students in that square, the housewives, the workers in that square did not hold up signs calling for more trade. They held up copies of our Declaration of Independence.”
Sen. Russell Feingold, D.-Wis., said at the rally a state visit by Jiang to the White House is “an honor his government has not earned. No, it’s not wrong to talk with China’s leaders, but we should only extend a full welcome after they have rejected oppression and tolerance as tools of statecraft and after they have accepted the basic rights of every man and woman to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Gere, a follower of the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader the Dalai Lama, said this “is not a cuddly new China we’re talking about here. These are the same policies that have been in effect for 50 years.”
Though two protesters walked among the crowd maneuvering eight-foot-tall puppets of Jiang and Clinton and another carried a sign reading, “Jiang + Clinton + Greed = Shame,” the two presidents displayed their differences on human rights at a White House news conference later in the day.
Jiang told reporters “concepts on democracy and human rights and on freedoms are relative and specific ones, and they are to be determined by the specific national situation of different countries.”
In response to a question about the uprising in Tiananmen Square, he said the “Chinese government had to take necessary measures, according to law, to quickly resolve the matter to ensure that our country enjoys stability and that our reform and opening up proceeds smoothly.”
Clinton said “it should be obvious to everyone that we have a very different view of the meaning of events at Tiananmen Square.”
On “this issue we believe the policy of the (Chinese) government is on the wrong side of history,” the U.S. president said.
That night, however, the divide between business interests and many religious activists and other human rights activists on policy toward China was demonstrated at a White House state dinner in Jiang’s honor. Among the guests were the chief executive officers of such corporations as Xerox, AT&T, Atlantic Richfield, Boeing, Pepsico, Eastman Kodak, Motorola, IBM, Westinghouse, Time Warner, Mobil, Proctor & Gamble, General Motors, Bell Atlantic and General Electric. Major motion picture studio officials included Walt Disney CEO Michael Eisner and Dreamworks president and popular director Steven Spielberg.
Prior to the summit, Clinton delivered a defense of his administration’s “constructive engagement” approach to relations with China. While acknowledging the United States should not ignore Chinese abuses of human rights and religious freedom, the president said a cooperative relationship with the world’s most populous country serves America’s interests, including those in global peace and trade.
“Isolation of China is unworkable, counterproductive and potentially dangerous,” Clinton said. “Military, political and economic measures to do such a thing would find little support among our allies around the world and, more importantly, even among Chinese themselves working for greater liberty.”
Some Christian organizations, including the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and other human rights and labor groups urged Congress this summer to oppose the renewal of most-favored-nation trade status for China, but the effort failed in a 259-173 vote in the House.
Other approaches, meanwhile, are being tried in Congress to punish China.
“It is time for the American government and the Chinese government to do more than pay lip service to the issue of human rights in general and persecution of Christians in particular,” said Will Dodson, the ERLC’s director of public policy. “Just as faith without works is dead, so are words without action.
“I believe our response as Christians on this issue should be to pray first of all for people of faith who are being persecuted on account of their religion, to pray for those in authority that they will respond to the outcries of the persecuted and those who are speaking on their behalf. Finally, we should make a concerted effort to persuade those in authority of their moral obligation to move from words to action.”
In a congressional hearing Oct. 28, author and scholar Paul Marshall said believers in China face coercive and sometimes brutal treatment if they are part of a church not registered with the government.
“The current crackdown is systematic across the country,” Marshall said, according to The Times.
During Jiang’s visit, the Clinton administration announced the Chinese president had invited three American religious leaders to visit China. They include Don Argue, president of the National Association of Evangelicals and a member of the State Department’s advisory committee on religious liberty in foreign countries.