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THE PRESIDENT IN CHINA

U.S., Beijing Used Ringer to Put Taiwan on the Table

Diplomacy: Shanghai scholar who joined panel discussion at last minute paved the way for Clinton's public assurances to China.

July 01, 1998|MAGGIE FARLEY and TYLER MARSHALL | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

SHANGHAI — For China, one of the crucial moments of President Clinton's visit came not in diplomatic wrangling in Beijing but at a simple round-table talk with community leaders here.

In a seemingly spontaneous comment, actually months in the making, Clinton for the first time specified aloud that America does not support Taiwan's independence or its quest for international recognition and a seat at the United Nations, a Chinese formula known as the "three noes."

After a long exchange about U.S.-China relations with Wu Xinbo, a young political scientist, Clinton segued into the Taiwan statement long sought by China. Referring to his meeting with President Jiang Zemin, he said: "I had a chance to reiterate our Taiwan policy, which is that we don't support independence for Taiwan or 'two Chinas' or 'one Taiwan, one China.' And we don't believe that Taiwan should be a member in any organization for which statehood is a requirement."

That declaration was groundbreaking not so much for content--top U.S. officials had previously laid out the policy--but for the fact that this moment was the first time that Clinton had articulated the policy and that he did it in China. "I think he was looking for an opportunity," Wu said later. "I just provided it."

Just as Clinton's comments were not accidental, neither was Wu's presence. Potential panelists--including a bishop, a filmmaker, a writer and "China's Ralph Nader"--were chosen weeks ago and had to undergo rigorous security checks and approval by American and Chinese officials. Wu, an expert on U.S.-China relations and Taiwan at Shanghai's Fudan University, was well-known to both, having just visited Washington a month before to discuss the Clinton visit.

Twice before Tuesday's round table, U.S. officials brought the group to the discussion site, Shanghai's new modern library, for rehearsals. A day before, U.S. officials braced their Taiwanese counterparts for what was to come.

"In the rehearsals, the White House people explained the purpose of the round table and what they wished us to talk about," Wu said. "But there was no script."

Taiwan, though, was clearly on the agenda.

The first indication that something unusual was about to happen came as panel participants arrived Tuesday at the Shanghai Library. Edward Zeng, a 35-year-old entrepreneur and one of eight Chinese intellectuals and business leaders expecting to sit at the polished rosewood table with the president and first lady, couldn't find his name card. "That's when I found out I wasn't going to be there," he said later.

Without being told, he had been replaced by Wu, whose expertise made it convenient for him to raise the issue of Taiwan.

Then, 30 minutes or so into the session, an aide slipped Clinton a note. As the discussion proceeded, Clinton exchanged glances with National Security Advisor Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger, who disappeared briefly before returning with Wu's biography, which he slipped to the president. Scanning the contents briefly, Clinton put the paper down and kept talking.

A moment later, Clinton turned to the scholar: "I would like to ask Mr. Wu now to talk a little bit about . . . how the relations between our two countries have changed in the last few years and what advice you could give us going forward here."

Although he had discussed Taiwan with Jiang privately in Beijing, Clinton waited until he left China's political capital to publicly give the U.S. position. One reason was history: It was here in 1972 that then-President Nixon and Chinese leader Mao Tse-tung signed the Shanghai Communique, which laid the foundation for what has evolved into the present U.S. policy recognizing only one China.

Taiwan reacted strongly and quickly: "The United States and Chinese Communists have no right and are in no position to conduct bilateral negotiations on anything related to our affairs," a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

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