CBS News White House Correspondent John Roberts, who is traveling with Mr. Clinton, reports that Chinese state-run television Friday showed pictures of massive military maneuvers on the shores of the Taiwan straits. It was a clear signal that what China calls provocative talk of independence by Taiwan's first elected president would not be tolerated.
And while Taiwan's leaders again goaded Beijing - claiming China couldn't afford an attack on Taiwan - they insist they're not picking a fight.
"We in the Republic of China are not going to provoke anything. We have given instructions to our armed forces not to make any provocation and even to bear the brunt of the first bullet," said Stephen Chen, Taipei's representative to the U.S.
When asked if the U.S. backed independence for Taiwan, National Security Adviser Sandy Berger said: "No, we do not, nor has any previous administration supported independence for Taiwan."
But just what to do if the Chinese were to move into Taiwan has been a matter of great hand-wringing since the two sides traded shots during 1940s and 1950s. Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy declared that smaller islands close to the mainland would need to be sacrificed to prevent a broader war.
"Our line should be drawn in the sea around the island itself," Kennedy said.
Official policy states that a Chinese strike against Taiwan would be a matter of grave concern to the U.S., but lays out no specific response. With a billion communist Chinese looking to expand trade on one side of the straits and a democracy of 22 million on the other, President Clinton must walk a fine line between support for Taiwan and provoking Beijing.
"Any differences between them should be resolved in a peaceful manner and we feel very strongly about it," the president said.
The Chinese media has reported that under the threat of more military action, President Jiang will demand that Mr. Clinton pressure Taiwan into renouncing its independent-minded ways.
The president will repeat that the U.S. supports a one-China policy and will continue to press Jiang for economic and social reforms that may one day bring China and Taiwan closer together.
Mr. Clinton will also attempt to jumpstart stalled trade talks and patch strained relations left from NATO's May 7 bombing of China's embassy in Belgrade during the Kosovo war.
Mr. Clinton told reporters in Washington on Thursday he was optimistic the two sides would be able to resume negotiations over China's entry into the World Trade Organization, which governs world trade.
"I would very much like to resume the WTO negotiations," Mr. Cliton said. "I think it would be good for China, good for the United States, and good for the world economic system."
Jiang came to Auckland saying he looked forward to talking to "my good friend" Mr. Clinton, suggesting a warmer atmosphere for their conversations.
Mr. Clinton and the other leaders meeting in New Zealand were also expected to have urgent discussions about the situation in East Timor, where pro-Jakarta militias have rampaged, killing hundreds of East Timorese, in the days after they voted in an Aug. 30 referendum in favor of independence from Indonesia.
Mr. Clinton announced in Washington that he had severed U.S. military contacts with the Indonesian military in response to its failure to stop the militias.
Mr. Clinton will also meet Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin for the first time to discuss, among other things, the importance of a concerted push against crime and corruption in the wake of accusations of international money laundering and bribes to Russian politicians.
Russian President Boris Yeltsin denied any personal corruption in a phone call to Mr. Clinton on Wednesday.