Chinese President Jiang Zemin Thursday held a spirited debate with members of Congress, who slammed the communist state's human rights record while hailing its rapid economic progress.
At a breakfast meeting, Jiang rejected the criticism, saying that "never before has Chinese society been so prosperous and open as today."Jiang, who heard similar criticism from President Clinton Wednesday, said, "In terms of structural reform, we will expand democracy, improve the legal system, run the country according to law and build a socialist country under the law."
Jiang met with Clinton for nearly two hours Wednesday for a summit that produced multibillion-dollar trade agreements and went some way toward easing the chill in relations since the 1989 crackdown of pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square.
Lawmakers said the issues raised at the closed session in Congress included allegations of religious persecution, forced abortion, mistreatment of prisoners, abuse of dissidents, nuclear proliferation and traf-ficking in human organs.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. and leading critic of China, said, "The questions were frank, but he wasn't frank in responding. He was evasive but engaging. In other words, he responded but he didn't answer."
On the arrest of religious figures, Jiang said they were being held because they broke the law. He denied U.S. reports of a trade in Chinese human organs for transplant. He said forced abortion was not a government policy, lawmakers said.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., said Jiang invited him to visit Tibet. Gingrich said he replied to Jiang that when he goes in August 1998 he hopes Jiang and the Dalai Lama, exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, will be there to greet him.
Critics say China has repressed the Tibetan people since crushing a popular uprising in 1959.
"I thought it was an encouraging dialogue," Gingrich said."We have things we disagree on that is legitimate.
"The framework of a peaceful evolution of this relationship is there. I do think they understand clearly our commitment to Taiwan not being coerced militarily. I do think they understand the passion we feel about religious liberty," Gingrich said.
Senate Republican leader Trent Lott welcomed Jiang by praising the rapid economic progress over the past decade but saying rights was a key element in the relationship and expressing concern over China's supply of weapons to Iran.
Lott said it was "almost impossible for our country to improve relations with those aiding Iran."
A major result of the summit was an agreement under which Clinton will lift a ban on selling U.S. nuclear energy technology to China in return for Beijing's assurance that it will halt nuclear cooper-a-tion with Iran.
At the breakfast House Republican Leader Dick Armey gave Jiang a list of 30 Chinese citizens he said were being persecuted for their religious beliefs and asked the Chinese leader to have them released.
Later Jiang was to address the Asia Society before going 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 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 will not affect China's policies.
In an interview on NBC's "Today" show, U.S. national security adviser Sandy Ber-ger said he believed Jiang's visit had helped improve U.S.-China relations.
"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.
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.