For the week of July 1 thru July 7, 1998  

Oil and water mixed

Weekend channel surfers with nothing better to do stumbled across something astonishing last Saturday night.

On C-SPAN, a press conference with President Bill Clinton and China’s President Jiang Zemin was broadcast live. We thought it was a just a photo op—a classic C-SPAN yawn--staged to make people forget about Monica Lewinsky for a minute and think nice things about Clinton and China.

However, it was more, much more.

For starters, the conference was broadcast by an official Chinese government television network that is loathe to show anything remotely controversial. Better yet, it was broadcast in China.

Clinton’s comments tore at the scabs of 1989’s bloody revolt in Tianamen Square and China’s persistent violations of human rights. Clinton boldly told Jiang that he should get together with the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan religious leader, and resolve their differences. It was totally unexpected.

For more than an hour, leaders exchanged views and answered questions from eastern and western journalists. We watched Jiang for signs of irritation or anger. Instead, we saw a relaxed, witty Jiang who told Clinton to fire his best shot.

We waited for someone to pull the plug. No one did. We saw our freely elected president and the Chinese Communist leader discuss tough issues in front of the whole world. It was like seeing oil and water mix.

Clinton brought home a fistful of agreements including the removal of each country from the other’s list of nuclear targets. Whether Americans can believe their eyes remains to be seen, but Clinton’s visit cracked open a door through which freedom may some day flow.


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