University students on Monday peppered President Clinton with polite but critical questions about America's human rights record, Taiwan policy and views on China in an exchange televised live across the vast nation.
The president suggested that the discussion, like his lively televised debate with Chinese President Jiang Zemin over the weekend, was the type of open dialogue that might one day lead to fuller freedoms in China."The struggle for individual freedom is the struggle for the nation's freedom," Clinton said at Peking University. "The struggle for your own character is the struggle for the nation's character."
The president later flew to Shanghai, the commercial capital of China and the third stop on his nine-day China tour. His public events there Tuesday will include a speech on China's future and an appearance on Shanghai Radio's call-in show.
Peking University has been an incubator for political protest since its founding 100 years ago, including the 1989 pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen Square.
But students who asked Clinton questions seemed more intent on defending China's integrity and questioning America's understanding of China than on questioning their authoritarian system.
One young man said Chinese people had learned much about the history, culture and literature of America and even love the box-office hit "Titanic." "But it seems that the American people's understanding of the Chinese people is not as much as the other way around," he said.
Clinton said he hoped his nine-day tour of China, including a visit to one of 500,000 villages that have held democratic elections, will give Americans "a full and balanced picture of modern China" and lead to moretourist, educational and business exchanges.
Another student asked why the United States continues to sell advanced weapons to Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province.
The president said arms sales to Taipei were for defense only and he hoped one day to see "the peaceful reunification of China and Taiwan."
Before China's state-run television decided to carry Clinton's speech, there were discussions between the White House and Chinese officials about the address. Presidential spokesman Mike McCur-ry said he indicated the president probably would not again raise the subject of the government's 1989 Tiananmen Square crack-down. "My guess was that he had dealt with that issue" in Saturday's news conference with Jiang.
McCurry said Chinese officials were "quite anxious" for an advance copy of the speech but that it was not available because Clinton was working on it until the end.
One young man in Clinton's audience questioned whether the United States really was intent on dominating China instead of improving ties.
"Do you have any other hidden saying behind this smile?" the student asked. "Do you have any other design to contain China?"
His question was met with laughter and applause, and a smiling Clinton said, "If I did I wouldn't mask it behind a smile. But I don't."
One young woman told Clinton that democracy, human rights and freedom were "of great interest to both the Chinese and American peoples." Then she politely lectured the president, saying, "We should have both criticism and self-criticism" and asking him, "Do you think that in the United States today, there are also some problems?"
The audience of some 500 students, sitting in a freshly painted white and gold-trimmed school auditorium, applauded her question.
Clinton said the United States does have problems, including racial discrimination - a legacy of slavery - and high crime rates that prevent some people from feeling free. "We are still not perfect," he said.
But the president said he never raises the question of human rights when he's overseas "without acknowledging first that our country has had terrible problems in this area."
Clinton praised China for its economic transformation over the past two decades as it moves to a free-market system. But he said China can't reach its full potential without political changes, too.