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Congress plans civil welcome for Chinese president in D.C.

There won't be any red carpets out, but Congress, long in the vanguard of those critical of China, plans at least a civil welcome next week for Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich, after consulting with the administration, has decided to put off action on legislation the Chinese would consider hostile. Leaders from the two parties will get a chance to air their grievances directly to Jiang, but only at a closed-door breakfast Oct. 30.At least since 1989, when the Chinese military eradicated the Tiananmen democracy movement and Jiang came to power, Congress has been a thorn in China's side with annual battle to cut off China's most-favored-nation trade status and attempts to punish China for its policies on human rights, population control, weapons proliferation and Tibet.

It's always been the White House, whether under George Bush or Bill Clinton, that has insisted that the key to getting China to change is engagement, not confrontation.

But at least when Jiang is in Washington, Congress plans a truce.

Republicans, said Gingrich spokeswoman Christina Martin, "realize the importance of the United States speaking with one voice and one policy. Therefore, Republicans have consulted with the administration to ensure the timing of China-related legislation does not appear an insult" during Jiang's visit.

Gingrich's decision didn't please some Democrats, who are in the minority and, thus, cannot control the agenda. "He's pulled the plug and is trying to muffle Congress' voice. He's trying to quiet the voices of dissent in anticipation" of Jiang's trip, said House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt.

Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., a vocal critic of China's human rights policies, said he was disappointed by the delay but that wouldn't stop him and other lawmakers from making speeches and holding news conferences.

Rep. Christopher Cox, R-Calif., chief engineer of the China legislation, said he had a promise from the GOP leadership of a full day of debate the first week of November, after Jiang leaves.

"It's not our objective to interfere with the summit," Cox said. "We want to give the president the maximum opportunity to press America's points with communist China."

Cox has put together a package of 11 China bills. Among the more controversial are measures to deny visas to Chinese officials who head government-sanctioned religious organizations and to urge the transfer of a theater missile system to Taiwan.

While official Washington prepared for the summit, actor Richard Gere turned the spotlight of his latest film premiere onto President Clinton, asking him to stand firm against the communist giant.

"We're not going to pretend this is a new, cuddly communist Chinese government we have here. They haven't proven themselves yet," Gere said at a party late Wednesday following the premiere of "Red Corner." In the film, which opens in theaters Oct. 31, Gere plays an American executive framed on murder charges in Beijing by corrupt officials.

An outspoken critic of China's human rights record and its control over Tibet, Gere planned a protest rally outside the White House next week plus his own "State-less" dinner, to coincide with the pomp and circumstance of the state dinner Clinton is hosting for Jiang.

"We've had a president who has been neither clear nor firm on China's human rights since the very beginning, and that waffling with China has sent a message of weakness," the actor said.

Gere's co-star, Bai Ling, said in quiet English that she hoped the film would focus international scrutiny on oppression in China, where her parents still live. Having left her country five years ago, the former Tiananmen Square protester said she is now even more afraid to return after her role in "Red Corner."

"The Chinese people have suffered for so long and they're living in fear," she said. "Somebody has to speak out. It's a great thing for the world to see China for what it is and demand change."