China’s Leader to Test Welcome Mat on U.S. Trip


He might sing a little. Chinese President Jiang Zemin once joined Philippine President Fidel Ramos in a duet of the Elvis Presley classic “Love Me Tender.”

He might even dance a little. The U.S. Embassy here has been scrambling to find music for the American ballad Jiang remembers from the days he was courting his future wife in Shanghai. “We were hoping to surprise him by playing it at the state dinner,” said a senior diplomat in Beijing.

For months now, according to Chinese and diplomatic sources here, Jiang has been boning up on his English, watching classic American films--mainly musicals--and reading his favorite American authors, Mark Twain and Zbigniew Brzezinski. He hopes to impress scholars with his knowledge of U.S. history in a speech at Harvard University.


But, chumminess with U.S. culture aside, when Jiang begins an eight-day visit to the United States on Sunday, he will face a less friendly welcome than that received by Deng Xiaoping during his memorable summit in 1979.

China is still viewed as a huge potential market for U.S. businesses. But because of the massive $44-billion trade deficit in China’s favor--one that is widening, with a record gap reported in August--the Asian nation is also viewed by many as an economic threat.

Back in 1979, America was in the mood to receive and welcome a Chinese Communist leader. The Cold War was still on. The United States and China had embraced each other as allies against the Soviet bear. On the eve of that visit, Deng told American reporters: “If we really want to harness the polar bear, the only realistic thing to do is unite.”

When Deng came to Washington that winter, Jimmy Carter was president. Carter’s national security advisor, one Zbigniew Brzezinski, the same man whose ponderous geopolitical books Jiang lists among his favorite reading, said he “could not recall a comparable sense of excitement in the White House.” The diminutive Deng even donned a 10-gallon hat in Houston. He looked ridiculous--and charming. It was a symbol of another, happier time in U.S.-China relations.

A Different Mood in America

Then the Cold War thawed. The Soviet Union disintegrated. Chinese troops moved against demonstrators in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, killing hundreds, perhaps thousands, of civilians on June 4, 1989. Deng, his cuddly image diminished by the deadly crackdown, died earlier this year.

Jiang faces a different mood in America. U.S. theaters are featuring a movie, “Seven Years in Tibet,” that portrays Chinese soldiers as modern-day Nazis. Never mind that the real-life hero of the movie was a member of the German SS; the effect has been to rally pro-Tibet and human rights activists.

Jiang will be confronted with demonstrations during his visit to seven cities, including Los Angeles. It is in this much less welcoming atmosphere that Jiang, 71, a former mayor of Shanghai who rose from obscurity to take the helm of Chinese leadership after the Tiananmen incident, is trying to fill the shoes--if not the hat--of Deng. It is Deng’s 1979 visit, not the less significant 1985 summit between then-Vice President Bush and Chinese President Li Xiannian, that will be the basis of comparison for the success or failure of the upcoming trip.

This summit, declared a Chinese official here, “is of profound historical importance.”

So far this year, Jiang has helped cement his position as heir to power by presiding over Deng’s state funeral in February. He added to his prestige by representing China when Britain returned Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty in July. And he demonstrated his political weight by dictating the agenda at the 15th Communist Party congress here last month, which outlined a massive program to sell off and close thousands of poor-performing state-owned industries.

To Jiang and his handlers, the U.S. visit represents the final stage of his ascendancy as China’s senior leader and chief statesman.

“This is the year of the ‘triple crown’ for Jiang,” a Western diplomat said. “First Hong Kong, then the party congress and now the summit.”

To set the stage for the visit, China first dispatched a senior trade delegation to go on a shopping spree for American goods. Officials here say the Chinese government will ink contracts in three U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, totaling $4 billion.

Included in the deals--part of a consistent strategy by the Beijing regime to enlist major American corporations into the pro-China lobby--is a $1.7-billion contract to buy as many as 30 Boeing aircraft. This contract is likely to be announced Nov. 2, when Jiang visits Los Angeles.

According to Chinese officials, Jiang’s visit will begin with a stop in Honolulu on Sunday. He plans to spend Tuesday touring the restored colonial town of Williamsburg, Va. “The significance of Williamsburg,” said one Chinese official, “is to overcome jet lag” before Jiang meets with Clinton on Wednesday.

South Lawn Fete and Clinton Meeting

The White House summit will begin with a reception on the South Lawn, followed by a 1 1/2-hour tete-a-tete with Clinton. After meeting with Vice President Al Gore and members of the Cabinet that afternoon, Jiang will be the guest of honor at a state dinner to be attended by more than 180 people.

According to a senior U.S. Embassy official, the number of prominent people wanting to attend the state dinner was so large that it stretched the capacity of the White House dining room. Music will be provided by the National Symphony Orchestra, and it is here, if anywhere, that Jiang’s penchant for singing and performing is most likely to be expressed.

As for substantive advances at the summit, U.S. officials said they believe that they are close to an agreement in which China would pledge to halt sales of conventional cruise missiles and other military, and potentially nuclear, hardware to Iran. Such a pledge would enable Clinton to certify that Beijing has stopped helping Iran and other countries develop nuclear weapons.

Presidential certification is required under U.S. law before American nuclear-reactor manufacturers can do business in China, where, they claim, billions of dollars in untapped market potential is already being exploited by French, Canadian and Russian companies.

Earlier this week, a U.S. Embassy official said the two sides were close to an agreement on the certification issue that could culminate in a signing ceremony on the White House lawn. “We have just a few more hoops we need to jump through,” the official said.

Meanwhile, on the sensitive human rights front, U.S. officials remain hopeful that before the summit, China will release some of its more prominent dissidents, such as democracy crusader Wei Jingsheng and former student leader Wang Dan, from prison on medical parole. In a breakthrough on the human rights front announced Tuesday in Geneva, representatives of the United Nations said that for the first time they had been permitted to privately interview prisoners in Chinese jails, including in Tibet.

No Interviews With Two Key Dissidents

The officials said the 30 interviews they conducted on a recent visit did not include Wei and Wang. But confidential jail interviews by U.N. officials have long been held up as a significant human rights objective by the Clinton administration and Congress.

After Washington, Jiang will travel to Philadelphia--where he will visit Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell--and then to New York, where he will have breakfast with Bush and meet with the top executives of IBM, AT&T; and Kodak.

Next, Jiang will travel to Massachusetts, where he will deliver the speech at Harvard University. Officials say that in keeping with Harvard policy, Jiang will answer questions from the floor after the speech. But sources at Harvard say the audience has been carefully “groomed and sifted” to avoid embarrassing confrontations.

The final leg of Jiang’s trip will be in Los Angeles, where he is slated to tour Hughes Space & Communications in El Segundo and Douglas Aircraft in Long Beach, where the Boeing aircraft deal is likely to be announced. While in Los Angeles, officials here say, the Chinese president will meet with members of the area’s Chinese American community.

* HONG KONG MARKET WOES: Benchmark stock index falls about 12% by late morning. D1


Jiang’s Itinerary

President Jiang Zemin’s eight-day visit to the United States is the first by a Chinese head of state in more than 12 years.

* Sunday (1) Honolulu: Pearl Harbor tour

* Monday, Tuesday (2) Williamsburg, Va.: Tour of historic sites

* Wednesday (3) Washington: White House visit, state dinner

* Thurs., Oct. 30, Washington: Meets members of Congress. (4) Philadelphia: Visits Independence Hall

* Fri., Oct. 31 (5) New York: Visits stock exchange

* Sat., Nov. 1 (6) Boston: Speech at Harvard

* Sun., Nov. 2 (7) Los Angeles: Tours Hughes Space & Communications in El Segundo; returns to Beijing