The President embarks today for the traditional capital of Xian, where he will receive an emperor's welcome -- a far cry from the chorus of criticism of GOP legislators and other groups demanding a harder line with Beijing over human rights. Clinton's primary objective is to change the way Americans view China. "He has to de-demonize the place, to show its great potential and that it's worthy of being treated like a normal country where a lot can be achieved," says Branegan. "His trip is to show the U.S. media the parts of China he wants them to see in order to understand the need for engagement." So don't expect any breakthroughs on trade, Taiwan, Tibet or human rights. Instead, expect a preview of the next century.
President Clinton's 1996 reelection mantra promised a bridge into the 21st century -- the century in which China will become the world's largest economy. That, says TIME White House correspondent Jay Branegan, is what's prompting the President's visit to Beijing, which begins today. "The U.S. is never going to be able to tell China what to do," says Branegan. "But we will be able to influence events there if we deal with the country on an ongoing basis. It's unquestionably in the U.S. national interest to develop that influence -- that is the White House rationale for the China trip."