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Somber Clinton Attends Dramatic Tiananmen Event

Asia: Ceremony follows U.S.-China agreement to not aim missiles at each other. Other pacts are announced.


BEIJING — In the most awkward, politically charged moment of his state visit to China, President Clinton took part in welcoming ceremonies in Tiananmen Square this morning, somberly striding through the controversial event that officially opened his groundbreaking trip.

With Chinese President Jiang Zemin at his side, Clinton walked along a red carpet, listened to the thunderous volley of cannons firing salutes and reviewed a phalanx of bayonet-carrying Chinese troops.

The colorful event in the capital city represented a formal show of respect for China's power and an implicit recognition by the Clinton administration that--nine years after Chinese troops massacred hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square--its Communist leadership has outlasted the efforts to ostracize it.

The dramatic moment came just hours after U.S. and Chinese negotiators reached agreement on a symbolic, albeit important, arrangement to no longer target each other's cities with nuclear missiles.

The accord was a badly needed diplomatic victory for Clinton, who managed to finally overcome Chinese insistence that the move be linked to a pledge to renounce the first use of nuclear weapons--a condition that would violate longstanding U.S. doctrine.

"It's important that whatever our past disagreements, China and the United States must go forward on the right side of history," Clinton said after the agreement was released. "Our dreams can only be recognized by nations whose citizens are both responsible and free. Mr. president, that is the future that the United States seeks to build with China, in partnership and in honest friendship."

In the 14-page list of this and other agreements released after the meeting, China also agreed to a second, more minor, commitment to study possible membership in an international body that monitors the spread of missile technology, formally known as the Missile Technology Control Regime.

In addition to these small steps, the two leaders issued joint statements dealing with the crisis in South Asia following Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests; the drive for a global ban on antipersonnel land mines; and the Biological Weapons Convention.

The leaders pledged to work together to prevent further nuclear escalation in South Asia and to "promote reconciliation and the peaceful resolution of differences between India and Pakistan."

Tensions in South Asia, Clinton and Jiang agreed, "are a source of deep and lasting concern to both of us."

The agreement also outlined future cooperation between China and the United States across a broad range of issues, including nuclear nonproliferation, environmental cooperation, health care and efforts to strengthen the Chinese judicial system.

On the volatile matter of human rights, the statement noted the two countries' "differences on human rights" while announcing that officials will hold a "candid dialogue" on the matter this year.

Emerging from their meeting, Clinton and Jiang engaged in an amicable if escalating jousting match on the subject of Tiananmen Square and freedom.

Clinton described Tiananmen as a "historic place" throughout Chinese history. But alluding to the bloody events of 1989, when "Chinese citizens of all ages raised their voices for democracy," Clinton declared that "for all of our agreements, we still disagree about the meaning of what happened then."

Standing next to Clinton, Jiang staunchly defended the brutal crackdown in the square, declaring: "Had the Chinese government not taken resolute measures, then we could not continue the stability that we are enjoying today."

Retorted Clinton, who last year told Jiang that China was "on the wrong side of history" when it came to personal liberty, "I'm trying to have a dialogue here that will enable both of us to move forward. . . . I believe that stability in the 21st century will require high levels of freedom."

Unlike the Tiananmen Square welcoming ceremony, this extraordinary exchange was carried live on Chinese television.

During today's ceremony, Clinton looked grim as he peered out over the very location where hundreds of thousands of Chinese demonstrators gathered in 1989 to demand democratic changes and an end to corruption. Those protests ended when the Chinese regime ordered the military assault.

The president said nothing during the ceremonies, which lasted about 15 minutes and took place in a plaza that is technically adjacent to the square but which blends into it and served as a base for the attacking soldiers in 1989. Administration officials have said Clinton plans to address questions of freedom and human rights at other locations during his trip.

Apparently unsure whether the American president might try to balance the controversial moment with some unscheduled comments, Chinese state television did not transmit the ceremonies live but began airing taped segments of the occasion shortly afterward.

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