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Gingrich Ends 3-Day China Trip by Pushing for Stronger Engagement

TIMES STAFF WRITER

House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who only a year ago was accusing the Chinese government of “terrorism” in the Taiwan Strait, bubbled with enthusiasm for China’s leadership, its economy, its history and its promise as he concluded a three-day visit here Sunday with 11 other members of Congress in tow.

The way to deal with China, the Georgia Republican said here, is to smother it with a kind of diplomatic tough love: “constant pressure, constant friendship and constant dialogue.”

“If you can be respectful but firm,” Gingrich pronounced as he prepared to board a plane for Japan en route to Taiwan, “you can get a long way with China.”

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For example, Gingrich said he told China’s leaders point-blank that they should expect a fight if they ever try to invade Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province.

“I told them we will defend Taiwan. Period,” Gingrich said. “The thing that was striking to me is that we never got into an argument about it. They basically said that they didn’t intend to invade Taiwan, so we would not have to defend it.”

The Gingrich delegation was by far the liveliest entourage to hit China in recent months, if not years. In terms of verve and audacity, it eclipsed last week’s visit by Vice President Al Gore.

Despite the conventional wisdom that diplomatic dealings here require extreme subtlety and tact, the Chinese leadership--who had been trying for more than two years to get the speaker to visit--appeared to enjoy the “outspoken Gingrich” routine as much as he enjoyed performing it.

Chinese President Jiang Zemin used the occasion of his meeting with Gingrich on Friday to declare, rather poetically, that U.S.-China relations have entered a state of “sunshine after the rain.”

Perhaps inspired by his Chinese host, Gingrich also waxed poetic, at one point describing China’s delicate task in managing the July 1 return of Hong Kong to Beijing rule as that of a giant holding an orchid.

“Our concern,” Gingrich said he told Chinese leaders, “is how to handle the orchid without crushing it. . . . If the giant has learned to hold the orchid, then, in fact, you will be seen very differently everywhere in the world.”

As he prepared to leave Sunday, Gingrich, who has been one of China’s harshest critics on matters related to Taiwan and to human rights, could not say enough good things about his experience in China.

At one point, he confided to a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing that his meetings with the Chinese leadership were “the high point of my public life.”

Gingrich said he was leaving China optimistic about the fate of Hong Kong after Britain returns it to mainland sovereignty. He theorized that for ethnic and economic reasons, China and Taiwan will eventually “evolve” into one state.

And he spoke glowingly about new freedoms that have come to the Chinese as the result of their country’s double-digit economic growth.

“You are now dramatically freer than you were 25 years ago,” he told students at the Foreign Affairs College of Beijing, where he delivered a freewheeling lecture Saturday.

“Just look at the clothing in this room,” he said, scanning the small lecture hall, in which students sported a variety of jeans and casual wear not dissimilar to what is worn on American campuses. “That’s very important. A people who pick their own clothing are freer than a people who look like they all wear the same thing.”

Several students rose to challenge Gingrich on some points, including his description of China’s role in the Korean War as an “invasion.”

At least one of them, Liu Guimin, 24, from the city of Suzhou, chafed under the Gingrich barrage of praise for freedom of speech and freedom of the press in the U.S.

“America may have freedom to talk,” said Liu, who said she plans to be a diplomat. “But that is different from interference in our internal affairs.”

But several other students asked reporters for copies of the Gingrich speech.

Gingrich began his public schedule Friday in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, a Stalinist-era temple of Chinese communism, and ended it here in Shanghai on Sunday by attending Easter services at a Protestant community church.

The officially sanctioned church, which is often used to show foreign visitors that religious practice is permitted in China, was built by foreign residents of Shanghai in 1925. In 1966, at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, it was closed and converted into a factory store and a training gymnasium for performers in revolutionary operas.

It was reopened in 1980 after Deng Xiaoping, the “paramount leader” who died last month, took control of the country and eased limits on religion.

On Sunday, the small church was decked with lilies and aglow with candles. A children’s choir clapped and sang a religious song to the tune of “You Are My Sunshine.”

Throughout his visit, Gingrich preached his theory of “global information diplomacy.” His message was that because of vast improvements in travel and communications, countries can no longer be isolated--as China has been for most of its recent history.

His point was illustrated during the sermon by the church’s pastor, Yang Anding.

Leaning from his pulpit, Yang told the congregation that on a visit to Los Angeles in August, he experienced an intense moment of religious inspiration viewing an illuminated painting of Jesus at Forest Lawn Memorial-Park.

“I have never seen anything so beautiful,” he said.


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