Trying to calm a stormy relationship, President Clinton and Chinese President Jiang Zemin agreed today to a pair of presidential summits over the next two years. The first high-level goodwill visit will be by Vice President Al Gore in the first half of next year.
President Clinton arrived Saturday for trade talks with Asian and Pacific leaders and a meeting with Jiang.
The timing and sequence of the presidential summits will be determined by the foreign ministers for both countries, White House press secretary Mike McCurry said. He said the two leaders agreed that the sensitive relationship between the two nations “needs regular high-level meetings.”
One of the state visits will be during 1997. The second will be in 1998.
Gore would be the highest-level U.S. official to visit Beijing since the crackdown in Tiananmen Square in 1989. President Bush visited China earlier that year.
Today’s meeting between Clinton and Jiang comes after months of particularly strained relations that were exacerbated by Chinese military maneuvers near Taiwan and disputes over human rights, trade and arms sales.
U.S. officials said, however, that although serious problems remain, the relationship has stabilized.
“Over the past year, I believe we’ve turned a corner in the relationship and dealt successfully with some very difficult issues,” said Samuel Berger, deputy national security adviser.
“And that progress demonstrates that we can work together and work through our differences, as great powers must.”
Clinton also will meet with Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and South Korean President Kim Young-sam before he joins other leaders for the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, which is taking place under extremely tight security.
In pre-summit discussions, the United States was not successful in getting other members to strongly back an international information-technology agreement. The World Trade Organization is expected to consider the pact - which would eliminate tariffs on products ranging from software to computers by the year 2000 - at a meeting in Singapore in December.
Instead, APEC ministers issued a vague statement of support about working toward an agreement. It did not set a timetable or other specifics.
The fourth meeting between Clinton and Jiang also follows criticism by some that the Clinton administration has not given enough attention to the relationship and has not had a consistent policy toward China.
Clinton has signaled that he intends to make China a key priority, saying during a speech last week that the direction China takes is one of the big questions that will determine the shape of the world 50 years from now.
U.S. officials also view this as a critical period to engage China as it wrestles with what direction it will take in a post-Deng Xiaoping era. Deng, China’s paramount leader, has long been ailing.
Other factors contributing to tensions include what Assistant Secretary of State Winston Lord called a growing nationalism that reflected China’s increasing economic and military power and decisions on whether it will go forward with economic reforms.