In a ceremony heavy in symbolism, President Clinton opened his state visit Saturday in Tiananmen Square, the sprawling plaza haunted with memories of China's bloody crackdown against democratic change nine years ago.
The president shook hands with President Jiang Zemin and other leaders of the communist regime at a red-carpet welcoming ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People.
After finishing the first full day of his China tour, President Clinton arrived in Beijing Friday, where Chinese troops clashed with pro-democracy demonstrators at Tiananmen Square nine years ago.
|CBS.com reports on President Clinton's trip to China|
Mr. Clinton is only the fifth sitting U.S. president to visit China, and the first since the bloody conflict in 1989.
Officials of both nations expect no dramatic agreements during the trip, but reports that several Chinese dissidents had been detained shadowed President Clinton's first day.
Before Mr. Clinton left Xian, White House National Security Adviser Samuel Berger told reporters the president was upset over the detentions and would raise the issue in Saturday's summit.
The president said Friday the repression was "not China at its best and not China looking forward, but looking backward."
Fresh arrests Wednesday and Thursday were an embarrassment to the president, already under fire at home for expanding cooperation with a communist regime accused of human rights violations and religious prosecution.
Congress had protested the president's trip in advance because of the human rights issues. The House adopted a resolution saying Mr. Clinton shouldn't go to China, but he defended the trip as protocol.
The president said one of his objectives in China was to discuss, publicly and privately, issues of personal freedom. The crackdown "makes it all the more important that we continue to work with the Chinese and to engage them," the president said.
CBS News White House Corespondent Bill Plante reports that the Clinton administration will file protests, but these are expected to be largely pro forma. He also reports that the Chinese are expected to release the dissidents as soon as the president's visit is over.
CBS News Senior White House Correspondent Scott Pelley reports that dissidents aren't the only controversial issue Mr. Clinton is expected to confront on his visit. The issue of Taiwan may overshadow the summit.
The president told reporters that the United States would not alter its polictoward Taiwan, which China regards as a renegade island. The United States holds to a one-China policy.
Earlier, in Xiahe, President Clinton celebrated local elections as schoolchildren waved bouquets of flowers.
Mr. Clinton visited the village to underscore a quiet revolution in villages across China. In addition to electing their own officials, many villagers are turning to small business to either add to their farm incomes or replace it entirely.
"Your achievements are a window for all the world to see what local democracy has brought to China," Mr. Clinton told the more than 1,000 people gathered in a dusty schoolyard.
"I know what it's like to run for office," Mr. Clinton declared. "I have won elections, and I have also lost two...but whenever there is an election and the people decide, everyone wins."
To illustrate that point, the president and his wife, Hillary, sat down with a group of six people to hear how their lives had changed in recent years. All of them told how their lives were much better - none of them mentioned any problems.
Yang Dongyi, an ex-farmer who now runs a small company, said that in China "we have a better policy in our country now."
"In the past, no matter what your abilities were, you were told what you were supposed to do. But after the reform, you can have space to show your own talent and work very hard."
Later, the Clintons spent several hours touring the fabled terra cotta warriors - thousands of life-sized clay soldiers ordered sculpted by China's first emperor, Qin Shihuang.
Arrayed in precise battle formations, the figures, meant to guard the eastern approach to the Qin Emperor's tomb, now draw hundreds of thousands of visitors.
The tomb was discovered by peasants digging a well in 1974. "I kept thinking how interesting it was that this emperor thought so much about his death," Mr. Clinton told reporters accompanying him. He described the experience of wandering through the ruins of an emperor's resting place "a good argument for a little humility."
Unlike other tourists, Mr. Clinton was permitted to go down into the pit for a close-up view, reaching up to touch the face of one soldier.
After attending a summit meeting Saturday, the Clintons will spend private time touring Beijing. On Saturday evening, Mr. Clinton will arrive at the Great Hall of the People for a state banquet in his honor.