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Clinton, Jiang Debate Rights on TV

June 27, 1998

BEIJING (AP) _ President Clinton and Chinese President Jiang Zemin engaged in a spirited, televised debate today over human rights and the Tiananmen Square crackdown, and announced a string of agreements on arms control, energy and environmental matters.

There were no announced breakthroughs on American human rights concerns, including Tibet, but both leaders accentuated the positive side of an evolving U.S.-China relationship even as they made clear they won’t shy away from disagreements.

Clinton praised Jiang’s government for resisting pressure to devalue its currency, a move many fear would worsen Asia’s financial crisis. But they could not agree on terms to allow China entry into the World Trade Organization, which sets global trade rules.

It was clear, however, that the most senstive issues were human rights and the continuing controversy over China’s decision, nine years ago this month, to use force in putting down student-led democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square.

``It is important that whatever our disagreements over past action, China and the United States must go forward on the right side of history for the future sake of the world,″ Clinton said at a joint news conference with Jiang after two hours of talks at the Great Hall of the People.

In an animated manner, Jiang said the fact that the U.S. and Chinese leaders can disagree publicly is a healthy sign for relations.

``I think President Clinton is a strong defender of the American interest, and I am a strong defender of the Chinese interest,″ Jiang said. ``But despite that, we still can have very friendly exchanges of views and discussion. And I think that is democracy.″

The summit began with a short, solemn welcoming ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People at the edge of Tiananmen Square. It was a spectacle Clinton’s critics said he should have avoided in memory of hundreds of pro-democracy students and other demonstrators killed by the Chinese military on surrounding streets during the 1989 crackdown.

Clinton reviewed Chinese troops and received a 21-gun salute, the cannon fire echoing across the vast square, site of pro- and anti-government demonstrations throughout Chinese history. It was here that Mao Tse-tung celebrated the victory of his communist government in 1949.

At the joint news conference, which White House officials said was broadcast live across China, Clinton directly addressed the Tiananmen crackdown.

``For all of our agreements, we still disagree about the meaning of what happened then,″ Clinton said. ``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.″

Jiang, countering with the long-standing Chinese reponse, said the crackdown was necessary to maintain order and ensure a smooth transition from a still-developing nation to a modern-day economic force.

``Had the Chinese government not taken the resolute measures, then we could not have enjoyed the stability that we are enjoying today,″ he told Clinton during the freewheeling 70-minute exchange reminiscent of their October summit in Washington where Clinton said China was ``on the wrong side of history.″

Jiang appeared relaxed, sometimes laughing and smiling. Clinton, who appeared tense when he first brought up Tiananmen, also seemed to relish the back and forth exchange. ``I think this debate and discussion today has been a healthy thing and a good thing,″ he said.

The Chinese president didn’t appear upset when Clinton complained about the detaining of dissidents during his visit and called on China to release political prisoners, including those from 1989.

``In China we have our laws,″ Jiang said bluntly.

He told Clinton that although their countries have different social systems, ideologies, values and cultural traditions, ``they should not become the obstacles in the way of the growth of China-U.S. relations.″

Aides to Clinton said they were pleased by the summit’s results, especially China’s decision to broadcast the post-summit news conference. Sandy Berger, Clinton’s national security adviser, said it was the first time such a news event had been broadcast live in China.

``This is a summit that produced substantial, concrete results,″ Berger said.

In his remarks, Jiang pointed to the agreement to stop targeting nuclear missile at one another’s countries, a symbolic gesture since missiles can be retargeted in a matter of minutes.

``This demonstrates the United States and China are partners, not adversaries,″ Jiang said.

Clinton agreed the detargeting pact was an important show of much improved U.S.-China ties for the future. ``Our friendship may never be perfect,″ he said. ``No friendship is. But I hope it will last forever.″

Clinton, perhaps addressing his critics in Congress and at home as much as Jiang, said his policy of engaging China on a wide range of issues is helping the United States as much as the communist country.

``Clearly, a stable, open, prosperous China, shouldering its responsibilities for a safer world, is good for America,″ he said.

Clinton also pressed Jiang to start a dialogue with the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet. Jiang said Chinese control had enhanced conditions in Tibet and, as long as the Dalai Lama was willing to acknowledge that Tibet and the island of Taiwan are both part of China, then ``the door to dialogue and negotiation is open.″

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