The June 25 arrival of President Clinton in China marks the first time in almost a decade that a sitting president has stepped foot in China. Until now, U.S. leaders shunned exchanging pleasantries with the communist leaders who instigated the June 4, 1989, offensive that killed as many as 800 student demonstrators in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.
The sting from that blow to basic freedoms has eased but slowly, particularly since the Chinese government has not changed its position. President Jiang Zemin called the killing of the students "necessary measures" when he visited the United States last fall.
Mr. Clinton added a sting of his own by announcing that he would follow Chinese protocol by being welcomed at the very spot of the bloodshed.
"Every step" Mr. Clinton makes across Tiananmen Square, according to Ding Zelin, mother of one of the slain demonstrators, "will be trampling on the hearts of families of victims and hurting our feelings."
With bipartisan support, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution, 305-116, asking the president to bypass the potent symbolism of a Tiananmen Square ceremony. A coalition of 35 diverse human rights groups wrote Mr. Clinton that the Tiananmen ceremony meant, "you are bestowing legitimacy to the ground where innocent blood was needlessly shed." Some even sent the president a wreath, asking that-if he must go-he take the opportunity to place it in the square in memory of those who died.
No amount of wheedling worked. White House spokesman Mike McCurry told reporters, "I doubt that we will find any way to get to the Great Hall other than going through Tiananmen Square."
James Sasser, the U.S. ambassador to China, told the People's Daily prior to the president's arrival, "President Clinton has indicated he is pleased to participate in the official welcoming ceremony wherever the Chinese Government usually holds such a ceremony."