President Clinton and Chinese President Jiang Zemin yesterday announced a long-sought accord on peaceful nuclear cooperation, but the summit meant to seal a deeper Sino-U.S. dialogue only served to showcase how far apart the societies remain on human rights.
At an extraordinary hourlong news conference leavened with occasional gaffes and wry humor, Mr. Clinton and Mr. Jiang at times tried to outdo each other in staking out long-held, and seemingly irreconcilable, positions on political freedom.
The president chided China for its detention of dissidents and repression of religious expression, telling Mr. Jiang that while his nation has made great strides in recent years, "on this issue we believe the policy of the government is on the wrong side of history."
Mr. Clinton, under pressure from Congress to be tough with China, dismissed the contention that democracy is a Western concept, pointing to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
But Mr. Jiang, who at one point defended the use of deadly force against demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in June 1989, made clear China's view was diametrically opposed.
"The concepts on democracy and human rights and on freedoms are relative and specific ones, and they are to be determined by the specific national situation of different countries," he said, citing China's need for stability and economic growth.
Using diplomatic code, Mr. Clinton said in response to a question about specific jailed dissidents that he had raised "every conceivable aspect" of human rights with the Chinese president. Mr. Jiang gave no sign that he would release any political prisoners.
While there was no concrete progress on human rights, the two leaders announced a series of accords that, in sum, point the way to a more productive relationship on a host of other issues, U.S. officials said.
Heading the list was the nuclear accord, under which U.S. companies could enter the lucrative business of selling nuclear power plants to China.
In return, senior U.S. officials said, China has agreed in writing to several conditions, including a ban on any new nuclear assistance to Iran and rapid wrap-up of two existing projects with Tehran.
The agreement was criticized by some in Congress and is expected to receive close scrutiny there. To carry it out, the president must certify to Congress that China has met the conditions of a 1985 accord that was never implemented.
"I am completely convinced that the agreements we have reached are sufficiently specific and clear that the requirements of the law will be met and that the national security of the United States will be advanced," Mr. Clinton said.
Other accords included:
* An agreement on regular visits - Mr. Clinton accepted an invitation to go to China next year - and a presidential "hot line."
* On trade, an agreement by China to join the Information Technology Agreement, which removes tariffs on many information products. Washington and Beijing also agreed to step up talks on China's entry into the World Trade Organization.
* Modest improvements in military-to-military contacts, including a maritime-safety accord meant to reduce the chance of accidents or misunderstandings at sea. …