Washington expects continuity in post-Deng era At Beijing's urging, Albright still plans China visit Monday

Deng Xiaoping - 1904 To 1997

February 20, 1997|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration expects so few repercussions in China's leadership resulting from Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping's death yesterday that it moved ahead with plans for Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright to visit China early next week.

"The important thing is that this is the passing of a historical figure," said David Johnson, a White House spokesman. "Governmental changes have really already taken place. The current government is well-ensconced. In a single word, we expect continuity."

"We want to continue a strategic dialogue," Johnson said.

Another official said, "I don't think there will be a change in our agenda. Whether there will be a change in the Chinese approach, we'll have to see."

Analysts outside the administration tended to echo this view, although one noted that "the knives will be out" within the Chinese leadership and that the military could end up playing a decisive role in any power struggle.

Albright is due to arrive in China on Monday night at the end of a trip to major world capitals. Meetings are planned with President Jiang Zemin, Premier Li Peng and Foreign Minister Qian Qichen.

As Deng's condition sharply deteriorated in recent days, Chinese officials told Americans that they still wanted her to visit.

"They're looking forward to giving her a warm welcome, because they want to work with her," said Douglas Paal, president of the Asia Pacific Policy Center, a Washington think tank.

The United States and China have tried to put their relationship ++ on a smoother footing in recent months after angry disputes last year over Taiwan, which Beijing views as a renegade province. But tensions have persisted, in particular, over Beijing's poor human rights record and its protectionist trade practices.

President Clinton, during a trip to Boston yesterday, issued a statement calling Deng an "extraordinary figure on the world stage over the past two decades" who was also "the driving force behind China's decision to formalize relations with the United States."

Clinton had met Deng at a U.S. governors' session in Atlanta during the Chinese leader's 1979 visit to America. At the time, Clinton was governor of Arkansas.

Deng's visit then laid the foundation for a rapid expansion of relations and cooperation between the two countries, the president said yesterday.

"Mr. Deng's long life spanned a century of turmoil, tribulation and remarkable change in China," Clinton said. "He spurred China's historic economic reform program, which greatly improved living standards in China and modernized much of the nation."

He added: "China today plays an important role in world affairs in no small part because of Mr. Deng's decision to open his country to the outside world."

While U.S. officials were unable to learn much immediately about China's official plans to mourn its paramount leader, they predicted that any ceremonies would be far more subdued than the tribute after the death of China's revolutionary leader, Mao Tse-tung.

Any funeral gathering, U.S. officials added, will be closed to foreigners.

Despite some change in public statements, officials do not expect any significant change in what Albright tells the Chinese privately. Albright, who has been outspoken on human rights, is expected to warn Beijing of American plans to co-sponsor a resolution criticizing China's human-rights record at the United Nations Human Rights Commission meeting in Geneva.

The State Department's human rights report for last year charged that China had effectively silenced all public opposition through intimidation, exile, arrest or detention. Yesterday, while extending condolences to Deng's family and the Chinese, Albright characterized as "very troublesome" his decision to use force in the 1989 massacre of pro-democracy protesters at Tiananmen Square.

But in keeping with U.S. policy toward China, Albright will make human rights only one of a broad range of issues under discussion.

Other issues include U.S. impatience over China's reluctance to open its markets, its role in the proliferation of weapons, the threat of instability on the Korean Peninsula, the environment, and narcotics trafficking.

Paal, of the Asia Pacific Policy Center, said Deng's death would bring "the most over-prepared succession in modern Chinese history." But Paal did not rule out the possibility of instability if the leaders were suddenly faced with unforeseen events, such as riots in Hong Kong after it reverts to Chinese rule this summer.

After next year, he said, there could also be movement within the leadership to assign blame to Deng for the Tiananmen Square massacre. Such disunity could fracture the ruling Communist Party, Paal warned.

"There will be a show of unity, but the knives will be out," said William C. Triplett, a China expert and a former chief counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "Whoever wants to make a move, this is the time to do it."

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