Hillary Rodham Clinton's decision to attend a conference on women's issues in China drew criticism Sunday even as the United States and Beijing planned a series of high-level meetings.
Republicans said the first lady's visit would allow China to whitewash its human rights record and ignore the plight of women there."Clearly when Mrs. Clinton goes as first lady of the United States of America, it sends a number of mixed messages," said Rep. Susan Molinari, R-N.Y. "There's no doubt that China's going to use the visit of Mrs. Clinton as a propaganda tool."
But Geraldine Ferraro, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, called Mrs. Clinton's decision to attend the U.N.-sponsored World Conference on Women Sept. 4-15 in Bei-jing "a win for women throughout the world."
Ferraro said a statement the conference will issue, addressing economic and political rights for women and violence against them, will have an impact on Chinese society.
"China will be criticized in that document," she said.
But Molinari, who joined Ferraro on ABC's "This Week with David Brinkley," questioned whether that message will reach the Chinese people through the nation's tightly controlled state media.
Also Sunday, U.S. diplomats said they were discussing a visit by Chinese President Jiang Zemin to the United States, which could include a meeting with President Clinton to discuss Sino-American relations.
Madeleine Albright, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said neither the proposed meeting nor Mrs. Clinton's attendance at the conference was linked to China's release of American human rights activist Harry Wu.
Wu said Saturday that the first lady's trip would be a mistake, suggesting it would be interpreted as a victory for China.
"We're all very glad to have Mr. Harry Wu back in the United States where he is free to make statements like that," Albright said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
Albright said Mrs. Clinton was driven to attend the meeting by her commitment to improving the lot of women around the world, and that her visit to the conference would focus on "human rights and women's rights."
Albright also planned to attend and said she would be speak against China's human rights record. But she stopped short of saying the first lady would be as direct.
"We believe Mrs. Clinton's going is a victory for women, women's issues, and (shows) the importance that the administration puts on the women's agenda," Albright said.