WASHINGTON — The White House disclosed Monday that only one month after China's pro-democracy movement was crushed by the massacre in Beijing's Tian An Men Square, National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft made a secret trip to China to meet with government leaders there.
The White House said that the July visit was to present an official but private U.S. protest about the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators. The disclosure is expected to add fuel to the storm of criticism that greeted the announcement that Scowcroft and Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger visited Beijing on Dec. 8 and 9.
Shortly after the crackdown in June, President Bush announced that he had cut off high-level diplomatic exchanges with the Chinese--an informal sanction apparently disregarded in the case of Scowcroft's July visit. He also temporarily terminated sales of U.S. equipment to the Chinese armed forces, but he came under fierce criticism for not reacting more strongly.
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater confirmed Scowcroft's July trip only after it was reported by Cable News Network. He said that Bush sent Scowcroft to the Chinese capital "to personally underscore the United States' shock and concern about the violence" and to "impress upon the Chinese government the seriousness with which this incident was viewed in the United States."
"The President felt this face-to-face mission, like the one recently completed by Gen. Scowcroft, was necessary to show the sense of purpose and direction of the United States government," Fitzwater added in a statement.
Fitzwater would not reveal the dates of Scowcroft's first trip. He said that he was unaware of any visits other than the two now revealed but said that he could not say there were no others.
While the first visit was intended to protest the violent crackdown, Fitzwater said, the second was intended to move the United States and China beyond the standoff that followed.
Disclosure of the July trip drew sharp criticism from Rep. Samuel Gejdenson (D-Conn.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who said that Bush "has misled the American people and the Congress."
"Most people felt the President stated U.S. policy as cutting off high-level contacts. This pulls aside the charade that there was an attempt here to do business with the moderates" in the Chinese leadership, he said in a telephone interview. "It sends a signal around the globe that you can kill people and the Bush Administration will not hold you accountable for any period of time."
But Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa) restated his support of the President's China initiative, saying: "Bush has demonstrated such a unique style and such dominance of the decision-making process that Congress has been left quibbling on a limb that bears surprisingly little weight."
Bush's experience as the American envoy to China in the mid-1970s has led him to take a personal interest in U.S.-Chinese affairs. He has steadfastly resisted pressure from Congress and elsewhere to impose tougher sanctions against China in the wake of the June 3-4 crackdown that claimed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lives.
Officials, who have said that the President acts as his own secretary of state when dealing with China, reported that the Scowcroft-Eagleburger mission to China earlier this month was at the President's suggestion.
Bush has said repeatedly during the last week that the most recent Scowcroft trip was undertaken to end the isolation of China's 1 billion citizens and that there had been indications the Chinese leadership was responding positively. Bush has not elaborated, but others have pointed to China's decision to let the Voice of America assign a new correspondent to Beijing. The previous correspondent was expelled after the June crackdown.
In addition, there has been mounting evidence that the United States and China are moving toward a deal that would free astrophysicist Fang Lizhi and his wife, dissidents who took refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing after the crackdown.
In an interview with news agency reporters Monday at the White House, Bush said that he does not know when the couple will be able to leave the embassy.
Responding to critics who said that the Scowcroft-Eagleburger trip this month represented a willingness on the part of the President to "kow-tow" to hard-line Chinese leaders, Bush said, "I don't think it's a salute."
He said that the criticism was "not a good rap" but that a President must be ready "to take a little heat from time to time. It hasn't been that much." He said that his critics have been "dealing with emotion and not facts."
He urged skeptics to "be a little patient and wait and see" whether his initiative produces results from Beijing.