BEIJING -- Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright praised the way China is openly approaching its many problems as she ended a two-day trip yesterday in preparation for President Clinton's visit late this month -- the first by a U.S. president since the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
"Clearly there is an increasing amount of healthy discussion in China these days about the changes that are occurring in the economic, social, cultural and political life of the nation and many innovative ideas are surfacing," Albright said after meetings with Chinese President Jiang Zemin, Premier Zhu Rongji, legal experts and intellectuals.
Although the United States and China continue to have many differences on issues such as Tibet, religious freedom and the nation's estimated 2,000 political prisoners, Albright emphasized that relations have improved enough in the past two years that officials can discuss them candidly without fear of diplomatic repercussions.
"Overall, I was encouraged and preparations for the summit are moving forward," she said.
Perhaps more than any other moment in the past nine years, Clinton's arrival will signify the restoration of normal diplomatic relations between the world's most powerful nation and its most populous one.
China traditionally holds its welcoming ceremonies for foreign heads of state in Tiananmen Square, a sprawling expanse of concrete that serves as the political heart of the country. U.S. officials said they have not yet thought of how to handle the sensitive matter of Clinton's visit to the site, which has become an international symbol of China's authoritarian, sometimes brutal, leadership.
"I don't think we've bounced it around yet," said one official.
Clinton's trip is expected to last about a week and will include stops in the southern city of Shanghai and the former British colony of Hong Kong. Officials said he does not want to spend all his time in meetings and hopes to get out and mingle with the Chinese people. This should make for interesting viewing as the president's gregarious political style is in marked contrast to that of China's leaders who rarely venture out in public.
U.S. officials said they hope to use Clinton's visit to better familiarize Americans with the rapidly changing face of China, a nation which over the past two decades has traded Marxist ideology for a more market-oriented economy. The president also hopes the trip will build support for his China policy which emphasizes cooperation over confrontation.
Earlier this month, the Chinese government released one dissident, Tiananmen Square student leader Wang Dan, and sent him into exile in the United States. Wang's release was seen as a goodwill gesture in advance of Clinton's trip.
During Albright's visit, she said she raised a number of human rights-related issues with Chinese leaders -- although there was no report of any progress.
She said she urged China to speak directly with the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, and asked about the release of specific political prisoners. She said she also brought up the issue of religious freedom -- a hot topic in Washington.
China requires churches to submit to state oversight and sometimes harasses and jails religious leaders who refuse to cooperate.
Pub Date: 5/01/98