A 21-gun salute and 120 GW students were part of ceremonies welcoming Chinese President Jiang Zemin to the White House Wednesday.
But the difference between the pomp and circumstance students saw during the South Lawn ceremony and the protests they heard from the park across the street represent a mixed picture of the future of U.S.-China relations.
Protesters and protocol clashed during the ceremony that the Clinton Administration hopes will boost its relations with China.
In Lafayette Park, across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House, hundreds of protesters rallied to decry human rights violations in China and Tibet.
“You could hear the protesters yelling in between the pauses of the ceremony,” said junior Adam Siple, who attended the ceremony. “We’re trying to welcome the president of China, but at the same time there are many people who would rather not have him here.”
Jiang is the first Chinese head of state to visit the United States in 12 years. The summit talks and state dinner scheduled for this week are efforts to repair a strained Sino-American relationship.
Junior Andy Drykerman said he sees irony in the day’s events. As he cheered inside the White House gates, protesters on the other side were less enthusiastic about the summit.
“I thought it was amazing . the bands, the salutes, the motorcades – and on the other side there were the protesters,” Drykerman said. “It seemed so peaceful as we’re embracing the Chinese president, but on the other side there are angry people upset that he’s here. That’s just America and the freedom we have and (the Chinese) don’t.”
With dissenters yelling in the background, the two world leaders made opening statements pledging their plans for improved relations between the two nations.
Siple said he thought the opening statements by Clinton and Jiang were evidence that the two leaders are ready to move toward progress, despite obvious disagreements on human rights.
” `Prosperity and peace’ – I don’t know how many times (Clinton and Jiang) said it,” Siple said. “I should have counted because that seemed to be the common theme.”
Jiang’s visit culminates laborious diplomatic efforts on both sides in the past year. Clinton indicated that both leaders now want to stress the broad common interests of the two countries rather than emphasize disputes about issues such as human rights and Taiwanese sovereignty.
GW Professor of East Asian Studies Molly Frost said the summit is the first step to enduring peace between China and the United States.
“A good relationship is critical,” Frost said. “Even when, and especially if, we disagree.”
She said the energy of the event was contagious.
“This is what (students) see as young people, not all this Cold War rhetoric,” Frost said. “It is a very hopeful mood and it’s exciting.”
Hundreds of raised arms waved American and Chinese flags when Jiang made his closing remarks in English.
Sophomore Minh Truong said she supports the summit’s efforts toward mutual economic and cultural understanding.
“(Jiang’s) last couple of lines were in English. That made the ceremony touch home,” Truong said. “It showed me that he is willing to work with (Clinton).”
Drykerman said he thinks a partnership between the two nations is possible.
“We’re both big powers and we both have what each other wants and needs,” Drykerman said. “The (Chinese) want democracy . and it seems to me that we want their big business and work ethic.
“We’re running a huge trade deficit with (China), so there’s got to be some giving and taking if this is going to work,” he said.
In preparation for the summit, GW’s Sigur Center for Asian Studies presented a panel Monday on the future of U.S.-China relations.
“The goal of this summit is to provide a long-term strategic plan for this relationship,” said Harry Harding, dean of GW’s Elliott School of International Affairs.
Harding likened the importance of Jiang’s visit to President Richard Nixon’s 1972 visit to China.
Mike Jendrzejczyk, a representative of Human Rights Watch-Asia, said both nations are looking to establish a framework that will ease further diplomatic relations, but that human rights were not a major priority for the summit.
“As China develops, human rights will become even more important to its economic and social development,” Jendrzejczyk said.
Other stops on Jiang’s U.S. tour include Pearl Harbor, Philadelphia’s Independence Hall and Williamsburg, Va.
(Photo by Anaklara Hering/Hatchet photographer)