The Clinton Touch Opens Doors to Chinese as President Winds Up Trip, His Impact on Chinese May Have Long-Term Benefits for US-China Relations

By Kevin Platt, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, July 1, 1998 | Go to article overview

The Clinton Touch Opens Doors to Chinese as President Winds Up Trip, His Impact on Chinese May Have Long-Term Benefits for US-China Relations


Kevin Platt, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Midway through a nine-day tour of China, President Clinton seems to be on the campaign trail for his policy of engagement with the world's most populous nation.

As he crisscrosses China to propagate a new era of understanding to replace the clashes and contention of the past, everyone from the Communist Party chief to the Chinese masses is giving Mr. Clinton his or her vote.

In a series of remarkable meetings that have included a televised debate with President Jiang Zemin and a brainstorming session with Chinese scholars and writers on the two sides' future, Clinton is triggering a sea change in cross-Pacific ties.

"A year ago, I could not have imagined how successful President Clinton's trip could be in reigniting friendship between the US and China," says Wu Guolan, a researcher at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies.

"As two countries that have such diverse histories, the US and China are certain to have misunderstandings," says Ms. Wu. "But as two great continental civilizations that both have their sights on the future and the world, we seem to have a rapidly growing range of common goals," she adds.

The Army's 1989 attack on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing and the disintegration of the Soviet bloc seemed to break most of the bonds between Washington and Beijing. Yet China's rise as a major economic power and as a force for nuclear nonproliferation and economic stability in Asia, combined with a loosening of Communist Party controls, are helping to create a new foundation for partnership with the US.

"As I said in Beijing in the press conference I had with Jiang Zemin ... the forces of history are driving us toward a common future," says Clinton.

During a freewheeling, roundtable discussion June 30 with a cross- section of scholars on China's future, Clinton added that expanded talks between the two sides are aimed at narrowing political differences and laying the framework for "friendship with the Chinese people over the long run into the 21st century."

Since Clinton and Jiang's surprising exchange over the 1989 crackdown at Tiananmen Square in the news conference broadcast live throughout China, "we feel that the boundaries on what we can talk about are melting away," says a recent university graduate.

A spirit of glasnost seemed to animate the round-table talk. Wu Qidi, who heads Shanghai's Tongji University, told Clinton: "When you talked about human rights with President Jiang in Beijing, I think it was a very good way ... there is good reason for us to become friends, not enemies."

Zhu Lanye, a law professor at Fudan University who joined the meeting, says "The Chinese government put absolutely no restrictions on what we could say. …

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