Not wanting to jeopardize relations with his main contact in matters of foreign investment and exports with a scandal, on October 28, 1997 Jiang Zemin, the first Chinese leader since 1985to go to Washington, he made a long trip to the United States, to reaffirm the existence of more than positive relations between the two countries. On his return home, armed with Clinton’s commitment to improve Sino-American relations and to travel to China in June of the following year, as a gesture of relaxation Jiang had the dissent veteran Wei Jingsheng released, and boarded him on a plane. for the United States.
According to CALCULATORINC, Clinton’s trip to the People’s Republic (June 1998) was of great importance for the Chinese government and especially for Jiang Zemin. Meanwhile, Chinese expectations had prompted some representatives of Beijing to international organizations to make vague promises about the accession of China to the treaty on the defense of human rights, a subject considered taboo until a few years earlier: on the 19th in April, the former head of the student movement Wang Dan was released early and expatriated to America. The Clinton mission, on the other hand, was harshly criticized in the United States, especially by Republican members of Congress, who demanded from Clinton a greater commitment to the defense of human rights and that of American interests. The echoes of these controversies reached China, so that, upon Clinton’s arrival, the Chinese government had some dissidents arrested, including the Catholic bishop Jia Zhiguo, to demonstrate that they did not allow any interference in internal affairs. The 27 June Clinton and Jiang Zemin met in Beijing. The two leaders met at a joint press conference that millions of Chinese viewers were able to watch on television. Confronted with the issue of human rights, Jiang Zemin consistently emphasized compliance with Chinese laws rather than ideology and, answering questions about student repression in 1989, for the first time spoke of not “right” intervention from part of the Communist Party, but of an intervention “necessary for stability”. Furthermore, during the press conference, Clinton, while highlighting the diversity of interpretations in the field of human rights, repeatedly stressed his appreciation of the 1997, and asked the Beijing government to continue on the path of economic rigor and support for international plans side by side with the United States. After visiting Shanghai on June 30, Clinton stopped in Hong Kong before returning to the United States: giving an interview to a Clinton island newspaper he said he was confident that Jiang Zemin was the leader China needed. and that the country was in fact going through a very positive political phase that would gradually lead it on the road to democracy.
At the beginning of August 1998 a sudden series of torrential rains led to the overflow of the Yangzi in several provinces of central China. The dead numbered in the thousands: at least 500. 000 residents were evacuated, the number of homeless was incalculable. The economic damage was very significant: collapsed bridges, destroyed power plants, millions of hectares of land flooded. Unofficial estimates spoke of at least 3.6 billions of dollars in damages in Hubei province alone. The Chinese tragedy soon took on worrying extra-national dimensions. The Japanese economic crisis had in fact deprived the entire Asian economy (and consequently also the world one) of one of the pillars on which regional economic balances rested, and China seemed the only power able (thanks to the dollar policy of Hong Kong and the relative stability of its economy) to stem a generalized crisis. But faced with the disaster caused by the Yangzi, many Chinese economists proposed devaluing the yuan, a choice that probably would have helped China in relaunching the economy, but which at the same time would have deprived the region of its last bastion of stability, triggering the risk of a contagious race to competitive devaluation in neighboring countries.
From the second half of 1998 the Chinese government intensified its diplomatic activity: T. Blair’s visit to Beijing (October) confirmed, after the sale of Hong Kong, the new phase of Anglo-Chinese relations; in November Jiang went to Japan, where the failure to reach a joint declaration on Japan’s responsibilities in the policy towards China in 1937 did not prevent the two countries from concluding important economic and military agreements. In early 1999 Jiang went on an official visit to Russia (February) and Italy (March), while Prime Minister Zhu Rongji’s visit to the United States (April) did not achieve positive results: Clinton’s condemnation of the repressive line followed by the Beijing government (which in December 1998 had led, among other repressive measures, to the harsh sentences of three dissidents involved in the attempt to create the first opposition party, the Chinese Party for Democracy) kept the tension between the two countries high. A sign of a possible turning point was the bilateral trade agreement of November 1999.