Chinese President Jiang Zemin wrapped up the official part of his U.S. summit Thursday by meeting members of Congress, who hammered home American concerns about human rights in the communist state.
Senate Republican leader Trent Lott welcomed Jiang by praising the rapid economic progress over the past decade but saying human rights was a key element in the relationship and expressing concern over China's supply of weapons to Iran."We do not believe that freedom is limited by geography or history. We believe that all men and women should be able to live, work and speak free from government interference," Lott said in a speech.
The Chinese leader had heard the same theme from President Clinton on Wednesday at a summit that ended in trade deals worth billions of dollars and went some way toward restoring normal contacts chilled since the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.
Jiang met Lott of Mississippi and Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, as well as Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia and House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri, before attending a breakfast with about 45 members of Congress.
Lott said it was "almost impossible for our country to improve relations with those aiding Iran," adding: "As we both work together to improve relations I hope you will understand how deeply we feel about this issue."
A major result of the summit was an agreement under which Clinton will lift a ban on selling U.S. nuclear technology to China in return for Beijing's assurance that it will halt nuclear cooperation with Iran.
Gingrich, who was outspoken on the issue of rights when he visited China earlier this year, said in a statement he had "reminded our Chinese guests that you cannot have economic freedom without political freedom and you cannot have political freedom without religious freedom."
"You cannot have a system that is half totalitarian and half free. It will not survive," he said.
At the breakfast House Republican Leader Dick Armey of Texas gave Jiang a list of 30 Chinese citizens he said were being persecuted for their religious beliefs and asked the Chinese leader to use his influence to have them released.
Later Jiang was to address the Asia Society before going on to Philadelphia for a round of sightseeing that would expose him to such powerful symbols of American freedom and democracy as the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.
On Wednesday Jiang and Clinton publicly clashed on human rights at an hourlong news conference, with Jiang defending the Tiananmen crackdown and Clinton saying China was "on the wrong side of history" on that and other human rights issues.
Since Jiang began his nine-day visit to the United States in Hawaii last Sunday, he has been shadowed by demonstrators protesting China's human rights record and its treatment of Taiwan and Tibet.
He told reporters Wednesday "sometimes noises came into my ears" but said the demonstrations would not affect China's policies.
In an interview on NBC's "Today" show, U.S. national security adviser Sandy Berger said he believed Jiang's visit had helped improve U.S.-China relations "to some degree."
"We have widespread interests in common with China, whether that's preventing war in Korea, trying to deal with the environment, trying to stop the spread of nuclear weapons," Berger said.
But the White House official added that Washington and Beijing had a "complicated, multifaceted relationship" and that China should understand that "until it allows political expression, political dissent from its people, that it can't realize its full potential."
Clinton and Jiang plan to meet in China in 1998 and agreed Wednesday to regular summits, a presidential communications "hotline" and other high-level exchanges.
At a lavish state dinner that crowned their talks, the two leaders and their wives dined on pepper-crusted Oregon beef in the company of more than 200 guests.
"With this summit, we have begun to plan together for a future not of problems but of progress for America, for China, for the world," Clinton said in toasting Jiang in the ornate White House East Room.