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Clinton says isolating China would hinder democracy

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President Clinton on Thursday turned aside angry criticism of his coming trip to China, saying that isolating the huge communist nation would make the world more dangerous and set back the cause of democracy and human rights.

Two weeks before his journey, Clinton said, "I'm going because I think it's the right thing to do for our country." He will be the first American president to go to China since the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre of pro-democracy advocates.Clinton, in a speech at the National Geographic Society, acknowledged there are serious differences over how to deal with China, the world's most populous nation.

"Some Americans believe we should try to isolate and contain China because of its undemocratic system and human rights violations and in order to retard its capacity to become America's next great enemy," the president said. "Some believe increased commercial dealings alone will inevitably lead to a more open, more democratic China."

He said he had chosen a different course, expanding areas of cooperation while dealing forth-right-ly with differences. He promised to raise human rights concerns, proliferation issues and questions about population control when he meets with Chinese leaders.

"Most important, choosing isolation over engagement would not make the world safer," Clinton said. "It would make it more dangerous. It would undermine rather than strengthen our efforts to foster stability in Asia. It would eliminate, not facilitate, cooperation on issues relating to weapons of mass destruction.

He said the United States could affect China's future by working with its leadership where possible and confronting it directly when there are disagreements. He said the relationship with China "will in large measure help to determine whether the new century is one of security, peace and prosperity for the American people."

"China will choose its own destiny but we can influence that choice," the president said. He said that isolating China "is clearly unworkable. Even our friends and allies around the world would not support us in that. We would succeed instead in isolating ourselves."

Republican and Democratic members of Congress, along with Chinese dissidents, have urged Clinton to cancel his trip and instead send a wreath commemorating those who have died under oppressive rule.