President Clinton is on his way to China, after a brief stopover in Alaska.
He'll speak to the families and personnel at Elmendorf Air Force Base, while Air Force One is refueled for the final leg of the trip to China.
Before he left the White House Wednesday, Mr. Clinton gave an interview to Radio Free Asia. It was a consolation prize for the three employees who had their visas yanked by China and were not allowed to travel with the president.
The news agency's diplomatic correspondent says Mr. Clinton insisted that the White House had done "everything possible," but that China had refused to back down.
Arin Basu says the president intends to highlight human rights when he speaks to students at Peking University.
Earlier, Mr. Clinton said he hoped the visa issue would not overshadow key talks on other issues - such as getting both nations to agree to stop targeting each other with nuclear missiles.
|CBS.com reports on President Clinton's trip to China|
"I hope that we can deal with all these issues independently," Mr. Clinton told reporters after signing a child-support bill Wednesday morning.
"I think the Chinese understand, as we do, that we've got a big common stake in a nonproliferation agreement for weapons of mass destruction... So I would think that they would not let this get in the way of what is in their self-interest, just as I won't let them get in the way of what is in the interest of the United States."
As for an agreement to point Chinese missiles away from U.S. cities, Mr. Clinton said, "I hope we can do that, but I don't know yet. I don't have an announcement to make."
The president, who left from the White House with his wife, Hillary, and their daughter, Chelsea, for the nine-day trip said: "I want and I hope that this trip will not only allow me to learn more about China and allow the American people to learn more about China, but help me to explain America - and what we believe in and why - to not only the government, but the people of China."
He said he was squeezing in an Oval Office interview with the three Radio Free Asia (RFA) journalists before his late-morning departure in order to "send a clear signal that we don't believe ideas need visas and that we support freedom of the press in our country."
Over the weekend, China's communist government canceled visas for the three RFA employees who had planned to travel with the White House and cover Mr. Clinton's historic trip - the first of an American president since the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
President Clinton, who for weeks has had to defend the trip against stiff criticism from congressional Republicans and human rights advoates, also rebuffed calls from House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., that he face down what the speaker called China's "censorship" by taking the RFA reporters as personal guests on Air Force One.
"I intend to press this issue by doing the interview," said Mr. Clinton, who invited news cameras to photograph the session.
Asked if he would concede to pressure from human rights groups and meet there with Chinese dissidents, the president said, "I am going to see a number of people from different elements of Chinese society, and I am going to do what I think is best to promote the cause of human rights."
The administration has said President Clinton does not plan to meet dissidents for fear that Chinese authorities might harass them after he leaves.
Overnight, U.S. Ambassador James Sasser "delivered a strong demarche" to Vice Foreign Minister Yang Wang and unsuccessfully pressed Beijing to reverse the visa denial, White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said. Lockhart, as if to play down any affront to Americans' free-press values, pointed out that Radio Free Asia is funded by a U.S. government agency.
President Clinton will arrive in China Thursday. His first stop will be in Xian at South Gate of Old City.
Written by Sandra Sobieraj