While the arrests will fuel domestic criticism over the President's trip, the dissident issue is unlikely to disrupt the overall purpose of the visit. "Clinton is not going to China to undermine its regime, he's there to do business and build a long-term relationship," says TIME White House correspondent Jay Branegan. "Although he'll meet with Hong Kong's elected democrats, seeking meetings with dissidents would be taken as an insult by Beijing, and that's not his purpose." Still, by arresting dissidents a day after refusing entry visas to journalists from Radio Free Asia, Jiang Zemin's government isn't exactly making Clinton's China policy an easy sell -- but then, they don't have poll numbers to worry about.
Hoping to avoid any unscripted episodes during President Clinton's visit to the ancient city of Xian today, Chinese authorities yesterday detained two of the city's leading dissidents, Yan Jun and Jiang Hangxia. They promised Jiang's wife he would be released within days if there were no "incidents."