BY inviting 13 Pacific Rim leaders to Seattle last week the White House ensured the first meeting of US and Chinese heads of state since the Tiananmen Square massacre of pro-democracy students in 1989. President Clinton, meeting with Chinese President Jiang Zemin Friday night before the Pacific economic summit, raised concerns about China's repressive behavior in human rights as well as its role as a major exporter of weapons technology. The meeting was needed, if for no other reason than that the White House could not host the leader of China as simply another summit participant.
Beijing, for its part, clearly viewed the Seattle summit as a business trip to a client with which it already has a $17 billion trade surplus this year. President Jiang heard Mr. Clinton out and then delivered a 15-minute monologue of his own about the ``importance of noninterference in the internal affairs of other nations.'' He later told reporters that as the world's two biggest powers, China and the United States ``have more important things to talk about'' than human rights and high-tech weapons exports.
In the Seattle venue, that may be true, although we question the sale of a US supercomputer to Beijing. China plays a huge role in Clinton's initiative to invigorate trade between Asia and the Americas. His view on China is similar to that of the Bush administration: that the policy most constructive and helpful to those inside China who want to open their country to new ideas is to actively pursue increased trade and exchange. The White House may also need Beijing to help check North Korean nuclear proliferation.
Yet though it may seem peculiar to many nations, Clinton must continue to raise human rights issues. Many of the Asian nations at the Pacific summit are the same countries that during the Vienna UN Conference on Human Rights last June asked that individual liberties and human rights not be made universal but be defined as subservient to a particular culture. It may seem exasperating to hard-headed ``realists'' to hear a continuing refrain of ``human rights.'' But it was appropriate for Clinton to ask Jiang to allow the Red Cross to visit closed Chinese prison camps. Given the concern for Mexican workers during the recent debate on NAFTA, it is not asking too much that Chinese products not be made in labor camps.
The ushering in of a new ``Pacific era'' is exciting. Yet there are further steps for Beijing to take.