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Friday, July 3, 1998 Published at 18:57 GMT 19:57 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Clinton leaves with democracy plea

President Clinton last-minute shopping in Hong Kong

US President Bill Clinton in Hong Kong: 'Democracy is a universal aspiration'
President Bill Clinton ended his nine day visit to China with a call for greater democracy in the Asian region.

The president left for Washington on Friday after spending the final day of his trip in Hong Kong. Before leaving he emphasised the overall achievements of his visit to mainland China. He also reiterated that he viewed democracy as the path to prosperity for Asia.

[ image: Bill and Hillary Clinton arrive at the new airport]
Bill and Hillary Clinton arrive at the new airport
He said the US relationship with China had been characterised in the past by severe misunderstandings. He argued that going to see Chinese President Jiang Zemin was the most effective way of influencing a change in the Chinese Government's attitude towards human rights.

In comments to an audience of business leaders in Hong Kong his main theme was democracy, which he called the path to wealth and stability, and not as some governments feared, a potential danger.

Stuck in a lift

The presidential couple had a brief scare on their last day in Hong Kong. A bolt of lightning caused a computer failure which resulted in Bill and Hillary Clinton being stuck in a lift for ten minutes.

A presidential spokesman said that, by the time the doors were prised open, the Clintons and the staff stranded with them were cracking jokes about it.

Human rights

[ image: Pro-democracy politician Martin Lee met Mr Clinton]
Pro-democracy politician Martin Lee met Mr Clinton
On his final day, the president also met one of Hong Kong's prominent pro-democracy politicians, Martin Lee, who is pressing for greater political reform.

The issue of human rights in China has been a recurring theme throughout the trip - which was aimed at furthering what the two countries call a new strategic partnership between them.

Nevertheless, both Chinese and American officials have expressed satisfaction with the visit - one of the most controversial overseas tours of his presidency, and the longest to a single country.

The BBC's Bridget Kendall: 'Mr Clinton had another aim - to educate Americans about China'
Mr Clinton praised the people of Indonesia, saying their longing for democratic, responsive government had succeeded in altering their political future.

Mr Clinton said the record turn-out in Hong Kong's elections last May had been a mandate for a faster pace of democracy, and he looked forward to the day when everyone in Hong Kong had full democratic rights.

Mr Lee thanked Clinton for coming to China and addressing the issues of human rights and democracy.

According to Mr Clinton's national security adviser, Sandy Berger, Mr Lee said Hong Kong's first year under Chinese rule had gone well but that the pace of democratic reforms should be accelerated.

The BBC's Jill McGivering says the president made an impassioned plea for greater democracy
Earlier, at a dinner hosted by the Hong Kong Chief Executive, Tung Chee-hwa, Mr Clinton told business leaders that the United States was prepared to do whatever it could to end the financial crisis in Asia.

Mr Clinton said: "The United States considers Hong Kong vital not only to the future of China and Asia but to the United States and the world as well. Our ties must grow stronger and they will.

"This present financial crisis too will pass if we work together with discipline and vision to lift the fortunes of our neighbours."

[ image: Bill Clinton with Hong Kong's Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa]
Bill Clinton with Hong Kong's Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa
President Clinton said he was keen to see China join the World Trade Organisation, but stressed the terms of entry must be acceptable to the international community.

He said his meetings with Chinese President Jiang Zemin and Chinese students had convinced him that it was possible to build a "more stable, more prosperous and free" future.

BBC correspondent Richard Lister talks about the ambivalent reactions in the US to Bill Clinton's efforts in China
He said the trip had been a "remarkably successful attempt to continue our partnership for the future."

Mr Clinton became the first US president to visit Hong Kong when he arrived there on Thursday.

His party were also the first foreigners to touch down at Hong Kong's new Chek Lap Kok airport, just hours after it was officially opened by Chinese president Jiang Zemin.

The airport is the largest civil engineering project in the world, and took six years to build. Its construction necessitated the levelling and enlargement of an island off the Hong Kong coast.

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