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Monday, June 29, 1998 Published at 04:40 GMT 05:40 UK

Clinton's freedom message

President Clinton: argument for individual freedom

President Clinton has urged the Chinese government to respect and preserve the basic human rights of its people, arguing that "freedom strengthens stability".

His chosen venue for what what US officials described as the most important speech of his nine-day visit to China was Beijing University, a breeding ground for the pro-democracy movement crushed by the communist authorities at Tiananmen Square in June 1989.

He told a packed hall of students that America wanted to build a new relationship with China and that Americans wanted China to be successful, secure and open.

Bill Clinton: how human rights will strengthen China (excerpts)
"We do not seek to impose our vision on others," he said. "But we are convinced that certain rights are universal."

For China to have a prosperous future, he said, it must give its citizens the freedom to reach their potential.

"I believe that everywhere, people aspire to be treated with dignity, to give voice to their opinions, to choose their own leaders, to associate with whom they wish, to worship how, when and where they want," he said.

Address broadcast live in China

Like his news conference on Saturday with the Chinese President, Jiang Zemin, his speech was carried live by Chinese television - a major change of policy by the authorities.

[ image: Students quizzed the president]
Students quizzed the president
It was followed by a series of direct questions from the hall. One student asked if President Clinton had a hidden agenda to contain China.

When the US president said he genuinely wanted an equal partnership, his reply was interrupted by applause from the audience.

Mr Clinton was also pressed about human rights in America, about missile sales to Taiwan and intriguingly about how he would react if faced by a demonstration.

A BBC correspondent in Beijing said some of the questions were pointed and seemed inspired by a view that the United States has a tendency to lecture other nations.

Later, Mr Clinton goes on to Shanghai, where he is due to take part in a radio phone-in programme.

The BBC Washington correspondent, who is travelling with Mr Clinton, says his relationship with President Jiang appears increasingly warm.

[ image: Saturday's Clinton-Jiang debate was the main news in the country]
Saturday's Clinton-Jiang debate was the main news in the country
Many Beijing residents, who had watched the two men's news conference, have said they are pleased to hear Mr Clinton's comments on human rights, including his criticism of the use of force against demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Others, however, said he had criticised China too much. The official Chinese language media on Sunday did not refer to his comments on the issue.

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