China took a hard line Thursday in negotiations over President Clinton's coming trip here, turning aside requests by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to make concessions timed to the presidential visit.
Albright and other U.S. officials appealed for changes on issues like Tibet, human rights, trade and weapons proliferation. But after two days of meetings, she and her aides could point to little or no progress in these areas.
Instead, the Chinese adopted uncompromising positions, often returning to old words and formulas. On Tibet, for example, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Tang Guoqiang unleashed a long denunciation of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader. The Clinton administration is urging China to begin talks with the Dalai Lama, who fled from his homeland four decades ago. Instead, Tang said Thursday that the Dalai Lama should "size up the situation (and) forgo his illusions."
Rather than easing their policies, Chinese officials told the administration to lift all remaining sanctions imposed on China after the bloody crackdown on protests in Tiananmen Square nine years ago. Tang repeated the oft-stated view that the regime was right to call in the army and end those 1989 demonstrations.
Clinton's trip to China, scheduled in late June, will be the first presidential visit since 1989. Albright came here to see what agreements can be reached in time for Clinton's trip. There is still more than a month left before Clinton embarks for China, and officials traveling with Albright repeated that negotiations on subjects such as arms control and human rights continue. And while China may be unyielding now, it could still make concessions.
But some experts think there won't be significant or far-reaching agreements for Clinton _ because his visit will be a great success for the Chinese no matter. "All the Chinese need is for Clinton to be there. They don't need anything else," said Nancy Bernkopf Tucker, a China scholar at Georgetown University. U.S. officials, though, "need something concrete to explain why the president is going to China and is going in June," the month of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.
Albright met Thursday with President Jiang Zemin and Prime Minister Zhu Rongji.
When Clinton met with the Chinese president in Washington last October, he offered forthright, public denunciations of China's communist system. At a news conference, the president told Jiang that the Chinese regime is on "the wrong side of history."
By contrast, Albright seemed to go out of her way this week to avoid confrontation. At a news conference, she emphasized the importance of talks with China, rather than policy changes.
Another U.S. official suggested that the purpose of Clinton's visit will be not so much to change Chinese policies as to alter China's negative image in the United States. A goal of the trip will be to "generate popular support back home for improving U.S.-China relations," this official said.
For that reason, Clinton aides are trying to arrange events in which the president can appear with ordinary Chinese, as well as this nation's top leaders.
At a midday news conference Thursday, Tang, the foreign ministry spokesman, threw cold water on several recent administration proposals. On Cambodia, for example, U.S. officials have tried to persuade China to support the idea of an international war crimes tribunal for leaders of the Khmer Rouge, under whose regime as many as 2-million people died between 1975 and 1978. Although Pol Pot, the top Khmer Rouge leader, recently died, several of his aides are still alive.
China rejected this initiative, with the Chinese spokesman arguing that what happens with Khmer Rouge leaders "is an internal affair of Cambodia. Outsiders should not interfere."
China also rejected an administration proposal to join the Missile Technology Control Regime, the 29-nation group that seeks to stop the spread of missiles. Tang called the group "exclusive" and "discriminatory."