Give President Clinton credit for representing the United States well in his nine-day tour of China that concluded Friday. Fears that his venture would be an embarrassment to America due to human-rights issues and the reception at Tiananmen Square, proved to be unfounded.

Yes, there's room for criticism, but not much. The Chinese government manipulated some things but on balance was surprisingly open, evidenced by the fact it allowed Clinton's speech to university students to be broadcast live despite being unable to obtain an advance copy of his text.Perhaps the biggest concern of the trip involved Taiwan. Clinton stated during a radio address what has been called the "Three Nos" - that the United States will not support an independent Taiwan, the creation of two Chinas or Taiwan's admission to the United Nations. Though the policy is not a surprise to Taiwan, as lower-level U.S. officials have stated it for months, to have the president announce it worldwide was a bit of a jolt.

Clinton did in a diplomatic way press for human rights and more democracy. His remarks in Hong Kong, which was turned over to mainland China a year ago by the British, were a fitting conclusion to the journey. He urged China's leaders to "ride the wave of change and take their country fully into the 21st century."

China has made considerable progress both politically and economically since the days of Mao Tse-tung. Last year Communist Party chief Jian Zemin, who is also China's president, called for substantial economic reform, supporting measures to create stock-ownership for state-run companies and giving most in the country of 1.3 billion people an opportunity to participate in the shareholder concept.

As economic reforms and more interaction with international companies - particularly those from the United States - increase, China will also begin to make more political strides. Economic freedom will eventually lead to political freedom.

But it won't happen right away. For now Clinton is wise to make clear statements about democracy and economic development without being heavy handed.

A positive trade and political relationship between the United States and China is vital as the world prepares to enter a new millenium. Clinton's just completed visit served, on balance, to strengthen it.