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Chinese warm to Clinton visit

The 75-year-old man visiting Peking from the north-west province of Shanxi was adamant. "If a Chinese leader had a sex scandal like Clinton, he could not be a Chinese leader any more. The ordinary Chinese people cannot accept this sort of thing."

What the old man could not understand was why there was any controversy in Washington over Bill Clinton's star role next week in a welcoming ceremony in Tiananmen Square. "Tiananmen Square is a symbol of the People's Republic of China. It has the Monument to the People's Heroes. Every foreign leader should visit there."

China is gearing up for its most important state visit since the bloodshed which ended the June 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations. Unlike many right-wing American politicians, most ordinary Chinese welcome the President's venture. "His visit is extremely helpful for improving China's economic development," said one man. "Clinton's visit is conducive to improving the human rights situation in China," said an assistant in a department store.

Last weekend, the US Senate Majority Leader, Trent Lott, warned that Mr Clinton faced a "public relations disaster" if he visited Tiananmen Square during the visit, from 25 June to 3 July. The US House of Representatives earlier passed a non-binding resolution urging him not to attend the welcome ceremony.

But for those Chinese people whose interests are so close to American politicians' hearts, the issues surrounding Mr Clinton's visit are not always clear cut.

A Peking businessman said Mr Clinton's trip might promote more liberalism in China. He was impressed by the plan for Mr Clinton to host a live radio phone-in programme in Shanghai, and was curious to hear what he would say. "Sooner or later a Chinese president should do that, it is natural," he said. He thought the Tiananmen Square welcoming ceremony was "also controversial in China. Some people are in favour of that, some are against".

Whether the Chinese government likes it or not, Mr Clinton's arrival and his public addresses here will turn the world's spotlight on the country's human rights record and some see this as an opportunity. Peng Ming, who runs an independent policy research institute, said: "The US government and Western governments should put some human rights requirements to the Chinese government." He hoped the state visit would encourage China to sign the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Peking has said it will.

But on the question of the Tiananmen Square ceremony, Mr Peng backed Mr Clinton. "As China's distinguished guest, I think Clinton should attend the ceremony because that is the routine, and he should respect the Chinese courtesy."

Some dissidents and the families of June 1989 victims have spoken out against the ceremony. Ding Zelin, whose son was killed in the crackdown and who has campaigned for others who lost relatives, said: "The red carpet is dyed with the blood of our relatives who have fallen."

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