Clinton Meets With Wei Despite China’s Warning

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Ignoring requests by China’s leaders, President Clinton met Monday with Wei Jingsheng, just three weeks after the prominent Chinese dissident was released from prison and exiled from his homeland.

But in an apparent effort to avoid damaging relations with Beijing, White House officials played down the 35-minute meeting, calling it a personal visit. They released an official photograph rather than allowing news photographers or reporters into the private session.

In a news conference after the meeting, Wei said he had warned Clinton of the danger of being “deceived” by Chinese leaders.

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Beijing assailed the U.S. decision to hold the meeting. “This act of the U.S. side is totally wrong, and the Chinese side expresses its strong resentment against and firm opposition to the meeting,” the official New China News Agency today quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying.

Wei, 47, who spent all but six months of the last 18 years in prison because of his efforts to bring democracy to China, said his experience has shown him that the Chinese government often breaks promises. “Very often, you unwittingly allow yourself to be deceived,” he said.

When pressed to explain what he meant, Wei said through an interpreter, “In dealing with the Communists, do not pay before the goods are delivered.”

Clinton talked to Chinese President Jiang Zemin about Wei and other political prisoners during Jiang’s official visit to Washington in late October. On Nov. 15, Wei was released from prison in what has been interpreted as a goodwill gesture.

Since Wei’s release, Clinton has expressed interest in meeting with the exiled dissident. But Chinese leaders quickly made clear their feelings about such a session. “We are opposed to U.S. government officials meeting Wei Jingsheng, and we are opposed to making use of Wei Jingsheng in anti-Chinese activities,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Tang Guoqiang said last week in Beijing.

In his news conference, Wei avoided directly criticizing Clinton or U.S. policy toward China. But when pressed, he said he had not seen any improvements in China as a result of the administration’s policy of “constructive engagement.”

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Clinton has repeatedly justified his policy of pursuing expanded economic and political ties with China by claiming the increased interaction will lead to improved human rights there. Asked whether that result is evident in China at this point, Wei said, “In my personal view, no such thing has occurred.”

White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry said there are no plans to turn back the clock on relations with China. “Our belief is that through engagement we will continue to be in the best position to press our concerns about human rights, [and] confrontation would severely limit our ability to press our concerns,” he said.

Although Chinese officials said last month Wei was paroled for medical reasons, he made it clear Monday that was just a pretense. Although he suffers from health problems, he said none are life-threatening.

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