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Two giants inch closer

The United States is the world's only superpower. China is the world's largest country, with 1.2-billion people. Neither can afford to ignore the interests and goals of the other, many world leaders say.

But the two countries have not developed close ties. One reason is that China's communist government doesn't give its people the freedoms Americans have. Now U.S. and Chinese leaders are taking steps toward a closer relationship.

President Clinton will go there for a meeting with Chinese leaders in June.

And earlier this month China made a move to help the talks when it released an important prisoner from jail and flew him to the United States. The prisoner, Wang Dan, had been jailed for leading freedom rallies. He was best known as a leader of the famous student protest for freedom at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China's capital city.

The Chinese government was criticized worldwide when it used soldiers and tanks to stop that 1989 protest. The United States was especially upset by the Tiananmen Square incident. The U.S. and Chinese governments have had little contact since then.

Time for change?

President Clinton wants to encourage China to offer its people more freedom. He also wants to have stronger agreements that would let American companies sell their products in China.

Last fall, Clinton met with Chinese President Jiang Zemin when Jiang visited the United States. Since then, the United States and China have been quietly working out new agreements that would help both nations.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who is in charge of foreign policy, will visit China this month to prepare for the president's trip. No U.S. president has visited China since the Tiananmen Square incident. Chinese leaders would like the favorable publicity such a visit would bring. That's why they set Wang Dan free.

Human rights

Wang Dan was China's No. 1 political prisoner. A political prisoner is someone arrested for speaking out or acting against the government. China has more than 2,000 political prisoners. Under China's system of government, people are not allowed to speak or act freely. A person accused of anti-government words or actions often faces an unfair trial and a long jail term.

That's what happened to Wang Dan, world freedom leaders say. He became a symbol for the lack of human rights in China. U.S. officials said Wang Dan's release last week was very welcome news. But human rights leaders were still upset that Wang was given a hard choice: He could go free only if he agreed to move to the United States. If he stayed in his homeland, he would stay in jail. Human rights leaders want China to release all of its political prisoners and become a free country where people can criticize the government without fear of arrest.

Activities

1. In the United States, we have many freedoms not given in China. We can speak out on issues, we can meet with whomever we like, we can get a trial before a jury, we can print newspapers to share information. As a class, discuss freedoms Americans have. Then see if you can find examples of these freedoms in the paper.

2. Wang Dan was jailed in China for stating his opinion that Chinese people deserve more freedom. Turn to the editorial page of the newspaper. Editorials state the opinion of the newspaper. Read one. Write a sentence stating what it is about. Then circle all the words that show opinion in the editorial.

3. Foreign news is important to Americans for many reasons. Find a story in the newspaper about a foreign country other than China. Write a sentence stating why the story is important to Americans.

4. The right to a fair trial is important to Americans. Find a newspaper article about a trial. Who is the accused? What is he/she accused of? If guilty, what do you think would be a fair punishment for him/her? Why?

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