Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who stopped in Beijing to help prepare for a China-US summit slated for late June, says the two Pacific titans are setting in place building blocks for a stable partnership into the 21st century.
Ms. Albright suggested that the angry cross-Pacific shouting matches that followed the Chinese army's 1989 attack on pro-democracy protesters are being transformed into a widening dialogue over how the US and China can work together.
After talks with senior Communist Party leaders, she indicated that the greatest progress in US-China ties had been made in joint moves to help push forward Beijing's legal reforms.
During the trip, the secretary visited Beijing's new Judicial Training Center and applauded Beijing's efforts to build a society that is ruled by law. Albright said that "a new initiative to cooperate in the field of law ... is in both countries' interest, and I know the legal communities of both countries are enthusiastic about it."
Albright called for stepped-up legal exchanges and added that "the dialogue between the US and China is producing results," and generating change. Chinese officials at virtually every level of government have welcomed the recent warming of Sino-American ties, and some say the change could fuel political liberalization here. "Many Chinese cadres who visit the US realize they do not have to be afraid of democracy, and closer ties with the US can only help reformists within China," says a Chinese official.
Since President Jiang Zemin's first state visit to Washington last October, young Chinese reformers in the government and on college campuses have wondered if the trip convinced their leader of the merits of political change. Although Mr. Jiang has made vague statements about liberalization, he has allowed two prominent dissidents to go into exile in the US. A senior US official in Beijing says the US is pressing China to release "more than 2,000 individuals who are in prison for counterrevolutionary crimes."
Chinese laws are used to punish anything from writing posters calling for democracy to criticizing Beijing on the Internet. The senior US official adds that while "there has been a great deal of momentum toward cooperation on a range of legal reforms," Beijing has made no commitment to release political prisoners.
Although top party leaders seem to fear rapid political change, many younger Chinese strongly support building a system of basic rights. Rather than calling for China to transform into a democracy overnight, the US is working to "promote accountability, predictability, and transparency in Chinese law," says the US official. "Ultimately that will lead to more freedom."