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Trip successful, Clinton says; wait and see, critics contend

WASHINGTON (BP) (BP)–Substantial and symbolic achievements marked his trip to China, President Clinton said at the close of nine days in the world’s most populous country, but critics of his policy toward the communist giant expressed skepticism at the results.
The president told reporters in a news conference at Hong Kong the two governments, among other things, had reiterated their commitment to security in Asia; made progress in nonproliferation, including an agreement not to target each other with nuclear missiles, and the Chinese had agreed to move closer to joining the Missile Technology Control Regime.
Clinton also pointed to what many Americans undoubtedly viewed as the most significant aspect of the trip, his promotion of human rights before two live television audiences of many millions in China, especially during a news conference with Chinese President Jiang Zemin.
“Over the past week, I have engaged not only the leadership, but the Chinese people, about our experience and about the fact that democracy is a universal aspiration, about my conviction that in the 21st century democracy also will be the right course practically as well as morally, yielding more stability and more progress,” Clinton said July 2, according to a transcript of the news conference.
“I believe that the fact that we debated openly these matters at the press conference of our disagreements is quite important. … And I might say that a lot of the democracy advocates from Hong Kong said that they felt that in some ways the fact that we had this discussion, the president of China and I, in the press conference might have a bigger impact over the long run on the human rights picture than anything else that happened here.”
At a June 27 news conference with Jiang, Clinton said the 1989 Chinese army’s massacre of hundreds, possibly thousands, of pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square was wrong. He also said all governments should protect “freedom of speech, association and religion” for their citizens. Clinton became the first United States president to visit China since the government’s 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.
While China is changing, “there remain powerful forces resisting change, as evidenced by continuing governmental restrictions on free speech, assembly and freedom of worship,” the president said.
Little progress, however, was made on trade issues, including on China joining the World Trade Organization, Clinton admitted.
Critics from the left and right, who have described the president’s China policy as appeasement of a regime guilty of widespread human rights abuses, said time will tell if the trip is a success.
“Despite the summit spinning, there have been no real results on reducing the Chinese government’s great wall of barriers to U.S. goods and products entering China, no real results on reducing the Chinese government’s proliferation of weapons of mass destruction technology and no real results on reducing the Chinese government’s repression of the peaceful expression of political and religious beliefs in China and Tibet,” said Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, a liberal Democrat and one of the leading human rights advocates in Congress.
“It is time now for this administration to turn the president’s statements on China into a policy that is honest, effective and sustainable — a policy that will make trade fairer, the world safer and people freer. If the administration adjusts its policy to meet those goals and the Chinese government responds favorably, then the administration can call this summit a success,” Pelosi said in a written statement.
“This president has often made the mistake of thinking that talking about something is the same thing as doing something about it, and that is a fatal flaw in perception,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “We’ve heard the rhetoric of the president. Now we want to see how the rhetoric of rights is going to be followed up by a policy to maximize human rights in the People’s Republic of China and elsewhere.”
Family Research Council President Gary Bauer, one of Washington’s most outspoken critics of the White House’s China policy, said Clinton failed to meet seven of the eight standards he suggested beforehand to the president that would determine whether the trip was a success. The only success came in China’s agreement not to target U.S. cities with nuclear missiles, Bauer said. Among other failures, Bauer said, were Clinton’s review of Chinese troops in Tiananmen Square, the president’s refusal to meet with dissidents, his failure to speak out publicly against coercive abortion and the president’s decision to worship with a government-registered church instead of an unregistered one.
“Still, some progress was made,” Bauer said in a written statement. “After months of pressure from members of Congress and a wide variety of organizations, the president found his voice on human rights. The live televised events were a positive development.
“We welcome any progress, but it doesn’t change the big picture: The administration’s China policy is seriously flawed. It’s time to replace it with a new form of engagement that balances human rights, national security and the long-term economic interests of the American people.”
At the Hong Kong news conference, Clinton said he raised the issue of the continued imprisonment of what he said were about 150 people convicted of nonviolent crimes from the Tiananmen Square protests. The president also said he “talked about (coercive abortion) briefly” to the Chinese leaders. Reports continue of abortion and sterilization forced on Chinese women. The leaders in Beijing continue to contend it is not a government policy, Clinton said.
The president probably received his harshest criticism in the days after the trip for his statement of a U.S. policy toward Taiwan that previously has been ambiguous. Clinton certainly pleased the Chinese government by saying the United States would not support independence for Taiwan, opposed recognition of Taiwan as a separate government and would not back Taiwan’s membership in international organizations. While it was a explicit statement of a previously held approach, no president had ever voiced the policy, especially in China.
In going to China, Clinton had to defend not only some of his actions, such as being received in Tiananmen Square, but the trip as a whole. Some critics called for the president to cancel his trip. The reasons varied from Chinese’s repression of individual rights, including religious freedom, to questions about White House approval of missile technology transfers to China, the Asian giant’s sale of nuclear materials to rogue governments and Chinese contributions to the Democratic Party in the 1996 elections.
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 the ERLC’s 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.
During the Hong Kong news conference, a reporter asked Clinton if he believed there ever would be democracy in China.
“I believe there can be, and I believe there will be,” the president said. “And what I would like to see is the present government, headed by this president and this premier, who are clearly committed to reform, ride the wave of change and take China fully into the 21st century and basically dismantle the resistance to it.”