China Gains by Taking It on the Chin

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For an authoritarian society, China sure seems to want to talk: First Jiang Zemin not only wanted to discuss Tiananmen Square and Tibet and human rights; he wanted to do it live on Chinese television. Then President Clinton's Monday address to Beijing University students -- and their feisty response at question time -- was also broadcast live to a nation unused to viewing any unscripted politics. "Saturday's candid exchange on camera could help Clinton silence critics in Washington who opposed his China visit," says TIME White House correspondent Jay Branegan. "And that could only help China."

Speaking on Monday at the university that had been the hotbed of the Tiananmen protests, Clinton may have expected some softball questions. Instead he was peppered with fastballs and sliders on everything from the U.S.'s own human rights record and U.S. arms sales to Taiwan to whether, behind his smile, he was actually trying to contain China. Clinton appeared to enjoy the exchange -- and so he should, since it was further evidence of the "breeze of freedom" he says is blowing through China, which is good news for a China policy that was looking a little embattled last week.