President Bush reaffirmed ties of Sino-U.S. friendship in wide-ranging discussions with China's top leaders Sunday, but his visit was marred when Chinese security agents blocked the country's most prominent dissident from attending a Bush-hosted banquet.
Astrophysicist Fang Lizhi, who was expelled from the Communist Party in early 1987 for allegedly instigating pro-democracy student demonstrations, was among 500 guests--including President Yang Shangkun and Premier Li Peng--who were invited to the Texas-style barbecue banquet at the Great Wall Sheraton Hotel.
Chinese police and security agents, however, physically prevented Fang and his wife from attending, Fang said early today.
As Bush flew from Beijing to Seoul aboard Air Force One this morning, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater told reporters that the President "expressed his regret" about the Fang "incident" to Vice Premier Wu Xueqian, the ranking Chinese official bidding farewell to Bush at the Beijing airport. Fitzwater said he did not know Wu's response.
The spokesman said Bush also asked U.S. Ambassador Winston Lord to determine the details of the incident.
Fitzwater also disclosed that the President reported he raised the human rights issue privately in his meetings in China and that Secretary of State James A. Baker III did likewise.
However, he as much as acknowledged that the United States was putting primary emphasis on economic reform in China over political reform.
The U.S. approach, he said, "was to focus on economic reforms and, to a degree, political reforms. But economic reforms first, and that's where the primary areas of progress have been made."
In a written statement distributed after Bush reached Seoul, Fitzwater made only passing reference to human rights, saying, "We hope for more progress."
The statement said Bush felt the trip was successful and cited the interest in both nations on moving ahead on such issues as two-way trade, the developing military relationship, and the flow of Chinese students to the United States.
Bush Sees Deng, Zhao
Earlier Sunday, Bush discussed a host of international and bilateral issues in separate meetings with Premier Li, Communist Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang, and China's paramount leader Deng Xiaoping.
His talks with Deng focused on issues related to the warming trend in Sino-Soviet relations, while Zhao outlined the relationship of political and economic issues in China's reforms, according to White House officials.
Li and Bush discussed Taiwan, Cambodia, the Philippines, the Korean Peninsula, the Middle East, terrorism, Chinese reforms, trade and East-West relations, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said. That meeting touched specifically on the issue of Chinese missile sales, Fitzwater said.
Bush's hourlong meeting with Deng "centered almost entirely on Sino-Soviet relations," Fitzwater said at a press briefing.
Previously tense relations between China and the Soviet Union have shown rapid improvement over the last year. Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev is scheduled to visit Beijing in mid-May to meet Deng in the first Sino-Soviet summit since 1959.
Bush opened his discussion with Deng "by saying that we welcomed the meeting between the president of the Soviet Union and Chairman Deng Xiaoping, that we saw it as an important and useful step in providing stability to the region as well as the world," Fitzwater said. "He wanted to assure the chairman that United States policy with regard to China would not be affected by the outcome of those discussions--that the Sino-United States relationship is strong and is an evolving one, and that he wished the chairman well in those discussions."
Premier Li repeated previous assurances--first given last September to then-Defense Secretary Frank C. Carlucci--that China will show restraint in future sales of missiles to other countries. Chinese sales of intermediate-range ballistic missiles to Saudi Arabia and anti-ship Silkworm missiles to Iran have been a key divisive issue in U.S.-China relations.
On Sunday, Fitzwater apparently revealed more than he was supposed to about the nature of those assurances.
"The President raised our concerns about missile proliferation," Fitzwater said at the briefing. "The premier recalled Deng Xiaoping's statement to former Defense Secretary Carlucci that China would not sell missiles to countries other than Saudi Arabia. The premier reaffirmed that commitment."
A few hours later, deputy White House spokesman Roman Popadiuk sought to retract Fitzwater's statement, describing it as "incorrect." Popadiuk declined, however, to give details on what Li said.
On the subject of Taiwan--which Beijing has viewed as a breakaway province ever since China's former Nationalist Party government took refuge there in 1949 after its defeat by the Communists on the Chinese mainland--Bush reaffirmed that the United States is "committed to a one-China policy," Fitzwater said. Bush restated the American position that the future of the island should be worked out by the Chinese themselves, both those on Taiwan and on the mainland.
The evening banquet featured barbecued brisket, sausage and chicken, potato salad, cole slaw, baked beans, pecan pie, peach cobbler and vanilla ice cream. A U.S. Navy band played country-western music and there were words of friendship.
"I have emerged from these talks convinced that U.S.-China relations are strong," Bush said in a banquet toast. "There is also great potential for further development."
Dissident scientist Fang, however, never reached the banquet hall.
Shortly after midnight Sunday, Fang and a friend who had set off with him to the banquet, UCLA Prof. Perry Link, director of the U.S. Academy of Sciences office in Beijing, appeared at the press room set up in another hotel for reporters covering Bush's visit. At an impromptu news conference, Fang related in slightly broken English what had happened.
Fang said that he and Link and their wives were riding in a car to the banquet when police stopped them not too far from the hotel. Chinese security officers told Fang that he and his wife, Beijing University physics professor Li Shuxian, could not attend the banquet, Fang said.
Even Taxi Was Stopped
The couples then tried to take a taxi to the U.S. Embassy, and the taxi was stopped. They walked to the American ambassador's residence but were stopped outside by Chinese guards, Fang said. They later went to a Canadian diplomat's home, and finally got in touch with American officials only as the banquet was ending, Fang and Link said. Link heads an American academic office in Beijing.
Fang expanded on his thoughts in an interview conducted in Chinese. He said that if Bush had intended to make a point about human rights by inviting him to the banquet, but wanted at the same time to avoid raising the subject directly with Chinese leaders, then this "is not very smart."
General Secretary Zhao sharply told the President on Sunday that advocates of "the multi-party politics and parliamentary politics of Western countries" are a threat to China's market-oriented reforms and that their American supporters are no friends of China.
'Stirring Up Disorder'
"The role they play in practical life is not to promote reform, but to provide a pretext for rolling back reform and stirring up social disorder," Zhao said, according to Foreign Ministry spokesman Li Zhaoxing, who spoke at a Sunday evening press conference.
"We do not export our system to other countries, nor do we copy the systems of other countries," Zhao added, according to Li.
"The fact that some personages in American society support those people who are dissatisfied with the Chinese government will not contribute to the stability of China's political situation and the carrying out of China's reforms, nor will it be conducive to the friendship between China and the United States," Zhao added.
A Warning From Premier
Premier Li issued a similar warning to Bush. "The Chinese premier . . . pointed out that a few Americans are attempting to influence China's policies on this issue or that, and interfere in China's internal affairs," the official New China News Agency reported.