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Chinese president arrives in U.S. for landmark visit

Jiang arrives October 26, 1997
Web posted at: 2:25 p.m. EST (1925 GMT)

HONOLULU (CNN) -- Chinese President Jiang Zemin on Sunday arrived in the United States for a landmark summit aimed at improving relations that have been strained over human rights, nuclear proliferation and the status of Taiwan.

Jiang's plane touched down on the U.S. island state of Hawaii, where he is expected to spend two days before arriving in Washington late Tuesday afternoon, in what will be the first formal visit to the nation's capital by a Chinese president in 12 years. Jiang is scheduled to hold talks with U.S. President Bill Clinton on Wednesday.

While in Hawaii, Jiang was expected to tour the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor and meet with Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris and Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano.

On the eve of his departure for the United States, Jiang -- who also heads China's ruling Communist Party and the military -- expressed optimism that Sino-U.S. relations were moving back on track, but he made no promises to release jailed dissidents or embrace Western-style political freedoms.

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

"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.

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 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."

Clinton said the upcoming summit represented the best chance since former U.S. 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.

On Sunday, veteran democracy campaigner Bao Ge made a written appeal to the Chinese authorities to release 12 people, including Wang and Wei.

Bao, who himself spent three years in labor camps for his political activities, said people should be allowed to exercise freedom of speech, demonstration and association.

"No citizen should be detained and persecuted for peacefully exercising these rights and freedoms or putting forward different political opinions," the Shanghai-based dissident said in his letter to the Justice Ministry.

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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