. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

China, U.S. Plan Presidential Summits


BEIJING -- A presidential Sino-U.S. summit will reduce security jitters among China's neighbors, but analysts warned Monday that the sought-after meeting was not yet in the bag.

"There's many a slip 'twixt cup and lip, and despite the political will, nothing concrete has actually happened in Sino-U.S. relations," said a Western diplomat specializing in the testy relations between Beijing and Washington.

"The announcement of the summit meetings has definitely pushed up expectations, but they are still expectations, and relations are still coming out of their dark stage," he added.

Chinese President Jiang Zemin and his U.S. counterpart Bill Clinton announced Sunday in Manila that they would exchange presidential state visits in 1997 and 1998, after a seven-year freeze in top-level visits and a damaging dispute in 1995 over Chinese abuses of intellectual property.

"The prospect of sound management of Sino-U.S. relations is very good news for the region," said an Asian diplomat, who also follows ties between the two giant nations.

"This is such an important relationship that everyone from Japan to India will benefit from its stability," he added.

The agreement between the two presidents came ahead of Monday's summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

But despite warming ties, China has rejected a U.S. proposal to pledge publicly not to target the United States with nuclear missiles, senior Chinese and U.S. diplomats said Monday.

Although neither side is aiming missiles at the other, a "de-targeting'' agreement, like the one Washington already has with Moscow, would build confidence, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Winston Lord said.

Its announcement would have cast an even warmer glow over the friendly talks Clinton and Jiang held Sunday in Manila. "It would be primarily symbolic,'' Lord said. "We are not aiming weapons at each other. But it would be a confirmation, and it would be useful symbolism.''

U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher broached drafting an accord with Chinese leaders during talks in Beijing last week, Lord said.

But Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen said Beijing wants to tie an agreement to a separate pledge that both countries would never be the first to use nuclear weapons.

"We hope that by adding this content, the agreement will be more comprehensive and will have real substance," Qian told reporters.

Washington cannot accept the connection, Lord said. U.S. nuclear defense policy still relies on the deterrence of a possible first strike. China's growing strength in world economics and politics is affecting both its ties with the United States -- the world's only remaining superpower -- and relations in the region, where neighbors have become increasingly wary of Beijing's growing muscle.

Last year's debacle with Manila over Chinese constructions on coral reefs in the South China Sea, and this year's Chinese war games in the Taiwan Strait have sent security jitters through the region.

Long accustomed to the Soviet Union and the United States patrolling international waters, China's growing presence has caused many nations in the region to rethink their defense strategies, while the shaky state of Beijing's relations with Washington have caused further insecurity.

"It is quite clear that when relations with the United States are bad, then the whole region suffers," said another diplomat.

China and Washington have yet to announce the sequence of state visits, but U.S. Vice President Al Gore will visit Beijing in the first half of 1997 to pave the way for the highly symbolic exchanges.

China's Xinhua news agency has already indicated that Jiang will take the plunge first, visiting Washington in November 1997, while Clinton will visit Beijing in early 1998, nine years after former president George Bush made the last U.S. state visit to China.

But both the return of Hong Kong to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997 and China's 15th Party Congress in October 1997 could upset the fine balance now pushing Sino-U.S. relations forward.