President Clinton's trip to China is registering more positives than negatives - at least for now.
Clinton's spirited debate Saturday with China President Jiang Zemin on issues ranging from human rights to trade policies, his visit to China's largest Protestant Church Sunday and free-wheeling interaction with university students in Beijing Monday all served to expand dialogue between the United States and China. It also gave Americans a significantly more personal view of the vast nation than those achieved from past visits by dignitaries.Critics claim with some justification that the American president is being manipulated by the Chinese government. Telling was an unsolicited comment by Jiang about the "so-called political contributions in the United States." Jiang claimed "we have conducted a very earnest investigation into the matter and the result shows that there never was such a thing."
Clinton didn't follow up on the comment as his role in possible illegal contributions is the last thing he wants to have discussed on this trip. What Jiang cleverly did was let both of them off the hook.
Still, more doors have been opened than closed and the outlook for the remainder of Clinton's trip is more optimistic than pessimistic.
Yes, it would be nice for China to be even more open than it is now, but the fact that the Chinese government allowed Clinton's speech to university students to go out live after trying and failing to get an advance copy of it, is significant.
"This new century can be the dawn of a new China," Clinton said, while urging political reforms. He proved adept at fielding questions from students about America's human rights record, arm sales to Taiwan and the way the United States perceives China. Clinton excels in this type of unrehearsed forum. He's to be given credit for holding his own.
The focus of the trip will be shifting toward trade and business, areas where China has been willing to make considerable concessions to capitalism. That in turn bodes well for political reform.
China, like the former Soviet Union, is learning that it can't long compete in a global economy without extending greater freedoms to its citizens. As Liu Ji, a top adviser to Jian noted prior to the party congress last September, "When the people have enough food to eat and enough clothes to keep warm and as cultural standards increase, they will want to express their opinions."
So far, Clinton is doing a capable job of balancing economic desires with needed yet restrained comments on China's human rights record. If the rest of the trip follows the pattern of the first few days, it will be a plus for both nations.