Madeleine Albright's Trip to China, 29-30 April 1998

11 May, 1998    ·   88

Jolie M. F. Wood comments on Madeleine Albright's Trip to China, 29-30 April 1998

United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited Beijing from 29 to 30 April in preparation for President Bill Clinton's visit in June, the first by a US head of state since the
1989 Tiananmen Square
massacre. In a meeting with President Jiang Zemin, Albright delivered a letter from the US president. The letter stressed Clinton 's desire to continue the momentum towards better ties that was established when President Jiang visited Washington last October. That summit was partially the product of the new US policy of "constructive engagement" with China , and an exchange of several senior-level visits. Washington has also sought to tone down its criticism of China 's human rights record, although Clinton 's letter to Jiang did urge the Chinese government to move forward on human rights and religious freedom.



President Clinton also urged expanding contacts between the two countries, especially in the form of exchanges of scientists and health and education specialists. Moreover, he noted the need to conclude arrangements for China to join the World Trade Organisation, and the need for further progress on energy and environmental problems. Albright said she hoped the summit would make progress on a broad range of issues, including human rights and halting the spread of dangerous weapons. She told reporters, "We are looking towards the 21st century in terms of our relationship with China and that is the focus of the summit - to try to look forward."



Albright also met Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan, and the two signed an agreement to establish a "hotline" providing a direct telephone link between the White House and Zhongnanhai, the Chinese leadership compound.



In a later press conference, she stated, "We are reviewing the various issues that have to do with the sanctions imposed by the US Congress... And clearly the issue of human rights is central to that". And to a group of US businessmen in China , she stated, "We will consider future waivers in the context of progress on China 's part." John Shattuck, director of the State Department's human rights office, was a member of Albright's delegation, signalling to Beijing that the US will continue to press this issue. Meanwhile, however, in Washington , the Clinton Administration expressed its willingness to abolish certain restrictions on high-technology transfers to China , to retain its declining share of the Chinese market. Undersecretary of State for Export Administration, William A. Reinsch told the Joint Economic Committee of Congress on 30 April, "The Clinton Administration is eager to get its due share of the huge Chinese market without compromising the national security... But in many cases, the technology transfer restrictions have a deterrent effect on trade expansions that go beyond national security needs." The combined message to China , therefore, is that while Albright and other high-level US officials make widely publicised statements that link the easing of US trade sanctions to the improvement of human rights in China , the Administration's immediate concern is economic. The Administration is willing to lift some sanctions in order to preserve US market share in China , and claims that future liberalisation will be contingent on the Chinese government's concessions to human rights.



Earlier, during Albright's flight to China , a senior US official told reporters that " China had halted delivery of medium-range missiles to other countries but still exported dangerous technology", in the words of The Pioneer (30 April 1998). According to the official, the Clinton Administration was determined to persuade China to sign the MTCR. However, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Tang Guoqiang later announced to reporters that China would not join the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), describing it as "exclusive and discriminatory," and noted that China was "not involved in the formulation and revision of it." He also stated that " China was committed to abide by the principles and major parameters of the MTCR and it had imposed clear controls on the exports of missiles."



The comments on Tibet traded by the two sides were nothing new, and seemed largely pro forma. Albright stated in her press conference, "We believe it is very important to preserve the cultural and religious character of Tibet . What we urge is dialogue". On Tibet , Tang Guoqiang reiterated the three conditions set forth by the Chinese government on talks with the Dalai Lama: (1) the Dalai Lama must recognise that Tibet is an integral part of China ; (2) he must renounce his demand for Tibetan independence; and (3) he must stop all "anti-China 'splittist' activities".



In a press conference, spokesman Tang Guoqiang called Albright's visit "significant," with "positive" results.