Pelosi Plans China Trip

By Wall Street Journal, Wall Street Journal - May 22, 2009

BEIJING—House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is due to visit China next week, in what observers here hope will be an improbable continuation of the Obama administration's charm offensive in China.

Widely regarded as one of China's sharpest and most public critics, Ms. Pelosi will arrive Sunday and stay a week, according to China's official Xinhua news agency. A Pelosi spokesman didn't respond to requests for comment, but an official from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing confirmed that Ms. Pelosi will visit China next week.

Pelosi at Tiananmen Square in 1991

According to Western diplomats here, she will head a delegation of members of Congress and is expected to travel to Beijing and Shanghai.

Ms. Pelosi has been one of the most vocal critics of China, most famously unfurling a banner on Tiananmen Square in 1991, where pro-democracy protests in 1989 led to a government crackdown that killed hundreds of people. During the 1990s, she was a regular opponent of normal trade relations with China. Last year, she earned a series of condemnations from Beijing for suggesting that President George W. Bush boycott the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics and for visiting Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, at his base in India.

Next week's visit is especially sensitive because it comes just 10 days before the 20th anniversary of the 1989 uprising. The government's official verdict is that the soldiers had to clear Tiananmen Square of troublemakers in order to preserve social stability. But in recent weeks, new Chinese critics have begun to publicly challenge this interpretation, with a group of academics holding a meeting that called for the event to be re-evaluated and with the posthumous publication of the Communist Party's former general secretary's memoirs, which criticized leaders for not pursuing a peaceful strategy.

"It's not great timing, but it's positive that she comes to China," said Yan Xuetong, head of the Institute of International Studies at Tsinghua University. "Her image of China is still of the time of the Tiananmen events; this might help her change her view."

James Zimmerman, a leader in the foreign business community in China, said the meeting could work out well. "The Speaker's visit is an opportunity for both sides to listen, observe and learn from one another."

The visit will have a green focus, with Ms. Pelosi giving the keynote address at an environmental energy forum. Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, is also due to speak, according to organizers of the conference.

The Obama administration has played down human rights as a major theme in China. During a visit in February, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had little to say publicly on the matter, instead focusing on economics.

That isn't necessarily a bad thing, according to people with long experience in dealing with China, because China rarely responds positively to public criticism. William McCahill, formerly a senior diplomat in the U.S. embassy and now a consultant with JL McGregor & Co., said the most effective critics come to China with a carefully researched list of political prisoners and behind closed doors put pressure for their release. Human-rights groups say the country still has about 30 people in jail linked to the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

"Megaphone diplomacy has never yielded very much," Mr. McCahill said. "It might be satisfying for those who wield the megaphones, but for the prisoners it doesn't do much good."

Write to Ian Johnson at

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