Mrs. Clinton in China

September 08, 1995

Hillary Rodham Clinton championed the downtrodden women of the Third World in her speeches at the Fourth World Conference of Women and its Non-Governmental Organizations Forum. She carried forward U.S. relations with China in the confrontational spirit in which she found them. And then she got out of Beijing to the wilds of Mongolia.

Mrs. Clinton's role is difficult for foreigners to fathom. She is not a high government official, exactly, or a queen, exactly, but shares some of the attributes of each for the duration of her husband's term. She should be accepted as a high U.S. government spokeswoman. Foreigners can be excused for confusion, which Americans share.

And so, while Mrs. Clinton excited many women at the non-governmental conference in the mud of Huairou, saying what they wanted to hear, she was less prominent there than American media make out. We cover our own; so does the rest of the world's media. It is a tribute to her annoyance and celebrity value that Chinese security goons at Huairou kept two of her retinue, Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala and Assistant Secretary of State Winston Lord, out in the rain.

But, to a majority of oppressed women from Third World societies who had found their way to Huairou, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan probably was a more imposing spokeswoman. Though born to greater wealth and position than Mrs. Clinton, she is from an Islamic society, which Mrs. Clinton is not, and was elected in her own right as head of her party to lead her country, which Mrs. Clinton was not.

Ms. Bhutto, too, spoke for women as professionals and as mothers. She was more conservative than many feminists and )) Europeans. She, too, was talking for the home folks. That includes Islamic clergy unhappy with her role and generals wary of her politics. She has a more difficult row to hoe than Mrs. Clinton.

It's good that Mrs. Clinton went to China. Critics who opposed the trip had the symbolism all wrong. But her visit did not greatly affect the politics of the conference or the document that will emerge. She was just one of many delegates. In purporting to bring the message of the U.S. to the Women's Conference, she really brought its message back home. That, too, was the idea.

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