China has a population control policy that many Americans see as brutal.
The Chinese use prisoners to make toys and clothing that wind up on the shelves of discount houses in this country, American labor leaders say.
China is building the biggest dam in the world, and the environmental cost grates some Americans.
Against the background of those feelings comes Jiang Zemin on a weeklong goodwill tour of the United States. There will be a White House meeting Wednesday with President Clinton for diplomacy and dinner.
About the most Jiang can expect - and it is no small ambition, say China experts - is a restoration of the wellspring of good feeling that once existed between these two countries.
It isn’t just the lingering image of Tiananmen Square and the picture of a single Chinese student in a white shirt, arms at his side, staring down a Chinese Army tank that captures America’s image of modern China.
But Tiananmen symbolizes the ambiguity of American feeling about China, says David Shambaugh, an Asian expert at George Washington University and a former State Department and National Security Council aide. “It was not just an assault on students, but an assault on democracy,” he says.
Americans hold twin impulses toward China, he says - the “missionary impulse to transform China, economically, politically, and strategically,” and a second anti-communist feeling enhanced when China abandons liberalization in favor of order and harsh political repression.
China scholar Mary Brown Bullock, president of Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Ga., and daughter and granddaughter of American missionaries in China, says more than the conflict between Eastern and Western values - and more than the inevitable frictions between a capitalist democracy and a communist autocracy - explains the tensions between the two countries.
She sees a time warp at work, “a conflict between 19th and 20th century values.” While America now follow the dictates of internationalism, the global economy and the information age, she says, China is catching up with the values of the 19th century - nationalism, sovereignty (and thus the friction over Tawainese recognition) and the basic need to feed so many mouths.
Shambaugh says the China criticisms of American interest groups play a role in shaping U.S. policy toward Beijing.
Thus, environmentalists and archaeologists must be heeded when they rail against the building of Three Gorges Dam in China, destined to be the world’s biggest, but also to displace 1.3 million people. These critics say it will obliterate endangered species and inundate ancient sites. They were not around when America built its own great dams, with untold environmental consequences, decades ago.
Labor leaders command attention when they denounce China’s use of prison labor to take jobs that they say should go to American workers and when they charge that China uses trade barriers to keep out American products.
Arms control advocates are exercised over reports of Chinese nuclear sales abroad and the transfer of Chinese missiles to Pakistan and Iran. The Pentagon becomes suspicious of China’s ambitious military modernization program.
Looming potentially as large as a vexation is China’s persecution of Christians, who number in the millions. Some Christian evangelicals and activists - another powerful political force - compare the issue to the Soviets’ refusal to permit Jewish emigration and predict that Christian persecution ultimately will become the chief sticking point between Washington and Beijing.
China has its own grievances, chief among them a suspicion that America acts deliberately to keep China from becoming an equal.
When something goes wrong, from losing a bid for the Olympics to being kept out of the World Trade Organization, China sees America’s hand at work, says Nicholas Platt, president of the Asia Society.
“The Chinese admire what the United States stands for and does, but they feel that their time is coming, that they are beginning to assume their rightful place in the world and that the United States is holding them back,” he says.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: JIANG’S VISIT Today Arrives in Washington, D.C. Wednesday Meets with President Clinton and attends state dinner in his honor Thursday Meets with congressional leaders and delivers major address; arrives in Philadelphia; visits his former teacher Friday Arrives in New York City and visits the stock exchange; meets with business leaders Saturday Arrives in Boston; gives a speech at Harvard University; flies to Los Angeles; meets with business leaders