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Chinese president upbeat on eve of U.S. visit

Jiang October 25, 1997
Web posted at: 11:08 a.m. EDT (1508 GMT)

BEIJING (CNN) -- Chinese President Jiang Zemin expressed optimism Saturday that Sino-U.S. relations were moving back on track, but on the eve of a U.S. visit, he made no promises to release jailed dissidents or embrace Western-style political freedoms.

He made the comments in a rare news conference before leaving Sunday for Honolulu, where he is to spend two days before arriving in Washington late Tuesday afternoon. It will be the first such visit to the nation's capital by a top Chinese leader in 12 years. Jiang is to have a summit meeting with President Clinton on Wednesday.

In an apparent effort to play down previous conflicts with Washington, Jiang offered some words of conciliation.

CNN's Andrea Koppel provides an overview of the upcoming summit
icon 2 min. 35 sec. VXtreme video

"In the past few years, China-U.S. relations are moving towards a favorable development," he told reporters in Beijing's Great Hall of the People.

"Naturally, in this period, there are also some ups and downs, and this is nothing strange," Jiang added.

He also said he had ordered China's envoy to the United Nations to sign the U.N. International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which will oblige China to protect citizens from discrimination and ensure fair distribution of resources.

President Clinton calls the meeting the "best hope" for relation between the United States and China
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Mike Jendrzejczyk of Human Rights Watch Asia doubts the sincerity of President Clinton's stand on human rights in China
icon 162K/13 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

Former U.S. Ambassador to China James Lilley describes how Jiang plans to present himself to the American people icon 153K/13 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

This "demonstrates once again the government's staunch determination to promote human rights conditions in China and the world as a whole," Jiang said.

However, he made no commitment to sign a similar U.N. charter on freedoms of speech, religion and assembly.

Jiang also referred to comments Clinton made earlier Saturday on Sino-U.S. relations, and acknowledged what he described as "different views" between Beijing and Washington.

"I believe the statement President Clinton delivered earlier this morning also stressed his mode of handling China-U.S. relations in a positive manner," Jiang said.

The Chinese leader stressed the "common responsibility" to promote stability and prosperity. "Whether we are able to bring a sound and stable China-U.S. relationship into the 21st century has a bearing on world peace and prosperity in the next century."

Mao and Nixon

Clinton said the upcoming summit represented the best chance since former President Richard Nixon's breakthrough visit to China in 1972 to forge a new strategic partnership.

Defying criticism from some members of Congress for ignoring China's human rights record, Clinton said that isolating the Chinese would be "unworkable, counterproductive and potentially dangerous."

Clinton has dropped the policy of trying to link trade considerations to human rights in China. "Change may not come as quickly as we would like. But as our interests are long- term, so must our policies be," he said.

On Saturday, Jiang evaded questions on whether China would free jailed activists Wang Dan and Wei Jingsheng, and the president repeated Beijing's official line: that the men are not "dissidents," but criminals who have broken Chinese laws.

Members of Congress who criticize China's human rights record said Friday they would hold a hearing Tuesday on the issue. Among those expected to testify is former dissident Harry Wu, who spent 19 years in Chinese prison camps.

Other key issues that are expected to come up during the Sino-U.S. summit are Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province, and arms proliferation -- particularly China's nuclear cooperation with Iran.

Senior U.S. officials were quoted as saying that Beijing had committed itself to end that relationship with Iran. If confirmed officially, that would allow the United States to lift its long-standing ban on the sale of nuclear power plants to China.

Beijing Bureau Chief Andrea Koppel and Senior Washington Correspondent Wolf Blitzer contributed to this report.

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