Despite China’s snub of the latest U.N. resolution against Iraq, President Bush on Friday agreed to meet with Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen in the highest-level contact between the two nations since last year’s Tian An Men Square crackdown.
With Qian standing at his side, Bush asserted that U.S. concerns over Chinese human rights violations will not be the sole focus of relations between the two countries.
“We have some differences on this whole broad question of human rights, but we have many things in common,” the President said. ". . . I am always inclined to emphasize the positive, and there are many positive and very important aspects to this relationship.”
The session was the furthest the Bush Administration has gone toward removing the restrictions on high-level contacts with Chinese officials imposed in June, 1989. However, there were also hints Friday that U.S. displeasure over China’s failure to support the possible use of force against Iraq had caused some new strains in the ties between the two countries.
For several hours Friday, the Chinese foreign minister was left uncertain as to whether he would be received at the White House. Early in the day, the State Department announced that Qian would meet with Bush, but then a department spokesman phoned reporters to say that no such meeting was planned.
Finally, the White House meeting was added to the President’s schedule at the last minute. Even then, Bush sat down with Qian in the presence of more than 10 other U.S. and Chinese officials, avoiding the sort of intimate, one-on-one chats that he often has with foreign leaders.
One Administration official later acknowledged that Bush had expressed “disappointment” over China’s decision to abstain Thursday night on the U.N. resolution authorizing the use of force. China maintains that as a matter of principle it favors a peaceful settlement of the Persian Gulf crisis.
“The President also raised concerns about proliferation,” said this U.S. source, referring to American fears about the spread of nuclear weapons, missiles and other weapons of mass destruction. Over the last three years, officials of the Ronald Reagan and Bush administrations have sought to persuade China not to sell missiles to countries in the Middle East.
U.S. human rights groups and several members of Congress criticized the Administration’s decision to invite the Chinese foreign minister to Washington. They noted that in recent days China has underscored its repressive policies by charging two leading supporters of the pro-democracy movement in the country with sedition and counterrevolutionary activities, crimes that make the men subject to the death penalty.
“We strongly protest your Administration’s resumption of high-level contacts with the People’s Republic of China in light of the escalating prosecution of democracy advocates and the massive repression that continues in the wake of last year’s June 4 massacre,” Reps. Ted Weiss (D-N.Y.) and Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and California Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) told the Administration.
However, several other congressmen agreed to meet with the Chinese foreign minister, emphasizing that they planned to raise human rights issues with him.
An Administration source said Bush “made clear (to Qian) that human rights obstacles are an impediment to fully normalized relations” between the United States and China. “He (the President) raised specific human rights issues on which he thinks they should move,” the official said.
Over the last 18 months, Secretary of State James A. Baker III has met with the Chinese foreign minister on five separate occasions at the United Nations or in foreign capitals. However, neither Qian nor any other senior Chinese leader had been allowed to visit Washington or meet with the President since China’s crackdown on the Tian An Men Square demonstrations.
Last Tuesday, two days before the crucial U.N. vote, Baker invited Qian to break the ice with a visit to Washington. Administration officials had hoped that China--which has veto power over U.N. Security Council resolutions--would vote in favor of the resolution against Iraq. They were surprised when Qian voted to abstain.