When President Jiang Zemin meets President Clinton Wednesday in the first state visit of a Chinese leader in a dozen years, there is likely to be a nuclear agreement and possibly one to provide U.S. assistance to clear China’s air pollution from its coal-fired power plants.
There will be talk of a new age of economic cooperation, greased by at least $4 billion or more in freshly signed deals, more than half with Boeing.
Naturally there will also be plenty of food and plenty of champagne. And the White House will declare, as its top officials have been saying for weeks now, that the main accomplishment of this summit meeting is that it is happening at all.
But that declaration is making a virtue of necessity, senior administration officials privately admit, because the months of frenzied pre-summit negotiations between Chinese and U.S. officials have produced significantly less than once hoped.
The agreement to get China to reduce its dangerous exports of nuclear expertise will be the substantive centerpiece of Wednesday’s meeting, and it will clear the way for billions of dollars in sales of U.S. nuclear power plants to a country whose economic ambitions outstrip its electrical capacity. China has also promised to stop selling anti-ship cruise missiles to Iran, reducing threats to U.S. naval ships in the Persian Gulf and helping to mute Republican criticism of Jiang’s visit.
But the once-feverish discussions about getting China to open its markets to foreign competition, especially with state-owned enterprises that are attempting a perilous transition to private ownership, have all but stalled - and with them, China’s hopes that this summit meeting would speed its entry into the World Trade Organization.
In other areas, progress will be at best incremental, senior officials say, and the main importance of this meeting is to provide a new beginning for what they concede has been the single most badly handled foreign policy of Clinton’s presidency.
In a speech Friday, Clinton reiterated the need for broad engagement with China in order to “advance fundamental American interests.”
But his defense of this visit by Jiang seemed passionless, and his critics are bound to argue that Clinton will not get enough in return for ending America’s diplomatic quarantine of China after the 1989 military crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square.
Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., who will conduct hearings Tuesday on Chinese human-rights abuses, said the summit meeting itself “should never have happened without preconditions on human rights.”