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Continue strong ties with China

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Which is better, an open dialogue and trade - or isolationism, mistrust and a refusal to talk?

The answer, of course, is obvious, and it explains why those who say the United States should sever ties with China over human rights abuses are wrong.Loud protests echoed through the streets wherever Chinese President Jiang Zemin went in Washington this week. He admitted to reporters, "sometimes noises came into my ears." Would these "noises" ever have reached him if the United States had decided not to maintain friendly ties? Would congressional leaders and reporters have had the chance to ask blunt questions of Jiang under any less-friendly circumstances?

During Jiang's visit, an agreement was reached. He pledged to stop providing nuclear supplies to Iran in exchange for a pledge by President Clinton to lift a ban on selling U.S. nuclear energy technology to China. Could the United States have hoped to curb sales to Iran, one of the world's worst outlaw states, if Clinton had refused to meet and seek common ground with the Chinese president?

The only way the United States can hope to influence China is to allow the two cultures to blend. And that means allowing U.S. corporations to do business in China. Already, the Chinese have benefited greatly from a move toward economic freedom. Sooner or later, those material gains will begin to pry open the nation's political system, as well.

Leaders in both political parties understand this balancing act. Jiang's visit underscored the wisdom of friendly ties and cooperation. While both nations benefited in tangible ways, the U.S. position on human rights was made crystal clear to the Chinese leader.

That's much more than ever would happen if the critics of U.S.-Sino relations had their way.