In a rare interview with western journalists this week, China's President Jiang Zemin said he wants better relations with the United States, but showed little flexibility on the many disputes between Washington and Beijing.
President Jiang Zemin told The New York Times that China and the United States share a "positive desire" for good relations, even though some members of the Bush administration describe China as a threat.
Mr. Jiang said many of Beijing's disputes with western nations grow out of foreigners' ignorance of China's goals and culture. He indicated that outsiders think introducing multiparty parliamentary democracy in China would bring freedom to the country. He said it is more likely to spark chaos and hunger for China's 1.2 billion people.
Mr. Jiang defended Beijing's crackdown on the Falun Gong spiritual movement that he says has harmed the physical and mental health of its practitioners. Mr. Jiang's comments did not reveal any new positions on the key disputes with the United States over Taiwan, Tibet, or human rights.
The chairman of the U.S. Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Joseph Biden, also met with President Jiang this week. He says the president and other top Chinese officials said China's human rights practices and legal system need some improvement. "They said give us some time," Mr. Biden said. "Well, we are not inclined to give time in terms of some of the more outrageous, what Americans and Europeans believe are some of the more outrageous actions."
Mr. Biden and three other senators raised concerns about human rights, religious freedom and the recent detentions of many U.S. citizens or U.S. permanent residents in China on allegations of espionage.
But on a visit to a church near Beijing, Mr. Biden said China allows more religious expression than it did during his last visit two decades ago.
Over the next two years President Jiang, Premier Zhu Rongji, and Parliament chief Li Peng are all scheduled to retire. The uncertainty following those leadership changes will be compounded by economic changes growing out of China's entry into the World Trade Organization.
The newspaper interview at a Chinese seaside resort was first suggested by Chinese diplomats, and may be an effort to smooth relations with the new Bush Administration at a time when China is getting ready to cope with changes in the country's economy and leadership.