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Chinese Leader Urges U.S. to Seek `
Chinese Leader Urges U.S. to Seek `Common Ground' Jiang Wants to Smooth
Tensions At Upcoming Summit With Clinton By Steven Mufson and Robert G.
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, October 19, 1997; Page A01
The Washington Post
SHANGHAI, Oct. 18 Preparing for an ambitious state visit to the United
States that will begin next weekend, Chinese President Jiang Zemin said that
he hopes to raise Chinese-American relations "to a new level."
In a rare interview with an American newspaper, Jiang urged Americans to
tolerate China's political system and seek "common ground despite
differences." He also said China and the United States "share the
responsibility for preserving world peace and stability."
Chinese and American sources outlined a series of initiatives designed to
achieve Jiang's aim of forging a strategic partnership with the Clinton
administration during the visit. Sources said China will pledge to end sales
of anti-ship cruise missiles to Iran, which the United States has seen as a
threat to shipping in the Persian Gulf. The sources also said this week that
the two countries would sign an accord at the summit pledging coordination
to avoid naval incidents at sea and that they probably would agree to
implement a 1985 agreement on nuclear cooperation that would allow American
companies to sell China nuclear power plants and equipment.
More broadly, the Chinese are pressing a reluctant Clinton administration
to make a joint declaration affirming the common strategic interests of the
two nations and pledging to work together to guarantee "stability" in the
21st century. The Chinese would like such a statement to reiterate U.S.
support for "one China," reaffirming the principle that Taiwan should
someday rejoin the mainland.
In his interview here on Friday, Jiang at times read from a prepared script
and at other times spoke extemporaneously, interspersing his comments with
snippets of Russian and English, a line from Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg
Address and Chinese proverbs. He defended the 1989 crackdown on the
Tiananmen Square student uprising, said Chinese leaders were on "high alert"
over the U.S.-Japanese security alliance and said that under China's market
reforms the Communist Party plays a role in helping foreign investors manage
But nine days before his visit to the United States -- one of his biggest
tests as China's leader -- Jiang strayed little from the rhetorical
formulations of the past, reasserting China's sovereignty over Tibet and
Taiwan, and declaring that China must limit the scope of direct democratic
participation in order to ensure stability and economic progress.
"The theory of relativity worked out by Mr. [Albert] Einstein, which is in
the domain of natural science, I believe can also be applied to the
political field," Jiang said. "Both democracy and human rights are relative
concepts and not absolute and general."
These political issues could be potential flash points during Jiang's trip,
the first state visit to the United States by a Chinese president since
1985. Both Chinese and American officials have warned Jiang that the trip
will be marked by human rights protests, particularly involving Tibet, and
blunt questions of the sort that would not be permitted here in China.
Anxious about how the 71-year-old Jiang, an electrical engineer by
training, will handle those confrontations, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)
recently flew to Beijing to discuss how Jiang would respond to questions
about Tibet. Today Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and U.S. Ambassador James
Sasser met with Jiang and discussed human rights issues. So far, Jiang
hasn't shown signs of making any gestures prior to his visit, such as the
release of jailed dissidents or softening China's line on Tibet.
Nonetheless, Jiang hopes that his trip will smooth over the tensions of
recent years and complete China's eight-year effort to restore relations
with the United States to what they had been before at least several hundred
people were killed on the streets of Beijing in a bloody army crackdown on
student-led demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
"We have to seize this opportunity to promote understanding between our two
countries," Jiang said here yesterday. "No matter how telecommunications
develop, they cannot replace face-to-face talks. They are very important for
carrying out an exchange of feelings and sentiments."
Other Chinese officials made clear that Beijing's expectations of the
summit are high. "We expect a lot," said Chu Shulong, an expert on U.S.
relations with the Chinese Institute of Contemporary and International
Relations. "We want the leaders to enhance strategic understanding, talk
about how they see the world today and into the 21st century and how the two
countries can work together to make a stable world. This is what we want the
China's apparent willingness to cut off cruise missile sales to Iran and to
give assurances that it has stopped all support for nuclear programs in Iran
and Pakistan -- the latter a key to winning approval for American firms to
sell China nuclear-power generating equipment -- are further indications of
Beijing's ambitions for improved relations with Washington.
Both presidents have made private gestures recently as part of their
governments' efforts to assure a successful visit. Earlier this month Jiang
hosted Sasser and his wife for a private dinner at the Chinese leadership
compound Zhongnanhai, an unprecedented gesture to an American envoy. In
Washington, President Clinton and Vice President Gore made a point of
dropping by during a visit by Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Liu Huaqiu to
National Security Adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger. Liu was in Washington to
make final preparations for Jiang's visit.
In another gesture aimed at blunting criticism over the widening U.S. trade
deficit with China, Beijing is sending a delegation on a shopping trip to
the United States this week to make major purchases of American products.
Aviation Supplies Corp., the agency that imports planes, said Thursday that
China will buy 30 planes from Boeing Co. worth about $1.7 billion.
As he prepares to leave for the United States next Sunday, Jiang appears
more dominant at home than at any time since he assumed power in 1989, after
the Tiananmen Square episode. Deng Xiaoping, China's paramount leader at the
time, installed Jiang as general secretary of the Communist Party, but at
first Jiang lacked the standing or authority to seize meaningful control of
In the eight years since, he has steadily neutralized rivals, promoted
allies and assumed new titles, and now stands apparently unchallenged atop
the government, the military and the Communist Party. At a party congress
last month he was able to make personnel changes that put his stamp more
clearly on the leadership of all the major institutions of Chinese life.
Nevertheless, Jiang remains a relatively colorless figure, and Chinese from
many walks of life express opinions of him ranging from toleration to
intense dislike. "He's okay, but we get mad at him for some of the speeches
he makes to the army and the [Communist] party," a young member of the new
class of aspiring Chinese business tycoons said in Beijing last week. That
implicit contempt for the rituals of official life -- rituals Jiang thrives
on -- is not unusual in today's China.
Judging by the elaborate preparations they have made for his U.S. visit,
Chinese officials are hoping their president can make a favorable impression
on Americans, and in the process also impress Chinese who will be following
the visit from half a world away. "We try to make some PR job," said Chu
Shulong, an expert on the United States with a PhD from George Washington
University. "We know this is necessary."
Whether a 71-year-old apparatchik like Jiang can conduct a successful
public relations campaign in the United States remains uncertain. In his
interview, the president was animated, cheerful and friendly, but the
conversation was carefully structured. The Post was asked to submit
questions in advance, and the president was ready with written replies,
which he read word-for-word as the pre-submitted questions were posed.
He also was willing to respond to several unscripted follow-up questions,
but after a few of them he announced that he would be glad to have a more
informal exchange with his American visitors as long as it would be "off
record," he said in his own workmanlike English. He grinned as he spoke at a
row of half a dozen aides sitting in huge, leather-upholstered armchairs in
the mammoth reception room where the interview took place. It was in an
official guest house on spacious, beautifully landscaped grounds on the edge
That informal discussion did follow, and Jiang was more animated and
engaging during it than earlier. At the end of the 65-minute exchange he
agreed to let his aides decide if some of the "off record" comments could be
published, and permission was subsequently given to use the most interesting
of them. His remarks on Tibet and his comparison of human rights policy to
Einstein's theory of relativity came during the unscripted exchange.
Many scripts have been prepared for his U.S. visit, though Jiang has agreed
to submit himself to several unscripted events, including an interview on
"The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer" and a joint news conference with President
Clinton. Chinese academics have drafted hundreds, perhaps thousands of
analyses, positions and speeches on Jiang's visit and Sino-American
Some Chinese officials and advisers to the government who studied in the
United States urged that Jiang avoid appearing at Harvard University for
fear of a hostile reception there. But advisers to Jiang said the president
insisted on speaking at the prestigious Cambridge, Mass., campus, one of
several stops where aides say he knows he may encounter protests because of
the large number of politically active students in the area.
A senior Western diplomat who has spent time privately with Jiang recently
described him as eager to make his case to the American people, and more
confident than he has been in the past.
China's remarkable economic performance in the years he has been in power
is one basis for that confidence. The country's gross national product has
grown about 140 percent since the Tiananmen Square crackdown. Urban China
has been transformed in those eight years, and the boom continues. According
to the mayor of Shanghai, Xu Kuangdi, 18 percent of all the construction
cranes currently operating in the world are in his city. Jiang, himself
former mayor and party secretary in Shanghai, was here this week to attend a
national sports meet.
In the interview, Jiang invoked the economic growth of these years as one
justification for the crackdown on the Tiananmen protesters. That growth
would not have occurred without the stability the crackdown brought, he
The new China Jiang represents on his trip to the United States is far
removed from the dreary dictatorship that Mao Zedong left to his successors
21 years ago. Urban Chinese can now eat at McDonald's and Pizza Hut, shop at
Esprit, surf the Internet, wear miniskirts and makeup, and lead independent
lives almost wholly outside the domain of state and Communist Party.
Jiang plans to begin his visit to the United States with a stop in Hawaii,
where he will lay a wreath at a memorial for American soldiers killed in the
1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. "Lessons from that incident cannot and
should not be forgotten," Jiang said. He expressed China's lingering
antipathy toward and anxiety about Japan, left over from Japan's brutal
occupation of much of China from 1937 to 1945. "We still hear occasional
echoes of Japanese militarism that are inconsistent with history, so we need
to be alert against it," Jiang said.
The Pearl Harbor stop is a way for Jiang to press China's concerns about
the strategic alliance between the United States and Japan. China has become
worried that the recently strengthened mutual defense pact is actually aimed
at China now that the Soviet threat has disappeared.
"To be frank, we are on very high alert regarding this Japan-U.S. military
treaty," Jiang said. "And we hope that this treaty is not directed at
China." He said China also worries that the alliance changes, completed just
after the 1996 Taiwan Strait crisis -- when China fired missile tests off
the coast of Taiwan just before Taiwan's presidential elections and 16 U.S.
warships sailed to the area -- were directed at intervening in Taiwan.
Jiang also expressed concern about U.S. pressure on China to alter its
political system. "How can the American way of elections be organized in
China when we have over 1.2 billion people and more than 100 million who
can't read or write?" Jiang said. Instead, Jiang said in a theme likely to
be replayed during his American journey, China's top priority had to be
It is issues like Tibet and the possibility of embarrassing confrontations
that make many Chinese government officials anxious about Jiang's trip. With
the release of a recent movie about Tibet, negative portrayals of Chinese
rule in the Himalayan region are going to be playing in movie theaters
during Jiang's trip. Tibet, which Chinese troops occupied during the 1950s,
is regarded by Beijing as a part of China. But many Tibetans advocate
independence and believe that the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Buddhist Dalai
Lama is the region's rightful leader.
The issue seemed to be on the president's mind when in a discussion about
his fondness for Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, he said: "Lincoln was
a remarkable leader, particularly in liberating the slaves in America." He
added, "When it comes to slavery in China, most of China got rid of slavery
long ago, except in Tibet, where it was not until the Dalai Lama left that
we eliminated serfdom. . . . The impression I get is that you [Americans]
are undoubtedly opposed to slavery, yet you support the Dalai Lama."
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company