Like Johnny Chung and Charlie Trie, Chinese President Jiang Zemin knew exactly how to gain access to the Clinton White House: lay the money on the table.

The entry fee was a $3 billion order for 50 aircraft to be built by Boeing, a mismanaged U.S. company that cannot turn a decent profit on the orders already on its books. The big money - $60 billion to build nuclear power plants - goes to Westinghouse and other U.S. firms, which will make our nuclear policy dependent on the goodwill of Beijing.A mere bump on the road to the summit was China's record of mendacity about transferring nuclear and missile technology to Pakistan and Iran. Our president, bonding to the man whose Great Wall he needs for a photo-op before next November's elections, extracted "clear assurances" that China will not do what it insists it never did but promises to stop.

Jiang comes away from his state visit as the man who triumphantly closed the Tiananmen chapter in relations with the barbarian superpower, while the dissidents Wei Jingsheng and Wang Dan still languish in their cells.

Jiang can also boast to China's nervous neighbors in Japan and Southeast Asia - including democracies that look to us to counter Chinese hegemony - that the prospect of trade is the key to influencing American policy and that no other potential market can compete with 1.2 billion Chinese.

President Clinton comes away in the pose of the geopolitical realist. He would have us believe that while candidates can campaign against "coddling dictators" (as he did and as Dick Gephardt is now doing), sitting presidents must park all ideals and accommodate despotism. He suggests that the only alternative to his pragmatic declaration of normality would be "to create a new cold war."

That's a straw-man argument, lacking subtlety, a quality Chinese diplomats cultivate exquisitely.

Cutting through the diplomatese: How do we get Jiang, so hung up on the appearance of stability, to spring Wei and Wang?

When Beijing adopts free-market rules, and not before, we should support entry to the World Trade Organization. When China, over time, demonstrates adherence to nuclear-spread rules, we should proceed in stages on power plants. When Jiang feels secure enough to permit his people to speak and worship freely, we will be dealing with a genuine superpower.