No one can doubt that President Bill Clinton is serious in wanting better relations with Beijing. He has taken a considerable political risk in embarking on the current trip - particularly when opportunists in the Republican-dominated Congress have reversed their support for the visit and are using it to try to undermine his popularity. Nor can there be much doubt that senior mainland leaders are equally earnest about forging closer ties. President Jiang Zemin has invested much political capital in this rapprochement, taking Beijing's policy a long way from the time in 1996 when the two sides came close to military confrontation. But there are others on the mainland whose recent actions suggest they do not understand the importance of building better relations with the US, and what it involves. That especially applies to the security authorities in Xian and other cities where police have been busy detaining dissidents and preventing them meeting foreign reporters. It is difficult to see how China has anything to gain from such actions. The dissidents represent no threat, and should have the right to express their opinions. Some are elderly ex-party stalwarts who might have praised Premier Zhu Rongji's style of leadership and the greater openness on the mainland. Instead, by persecuting them, the police provided examples of repression that worked in the opposite direction. This puts at risk the positive image of China which the Clinton trip was meant to put across to the American people. It will also distract attention from the many important issues of the summit as was shown by the way in which Mr Clinton and senior aides were forced to spend much of yesterday addressing questions about the detentions. Nor can China benefit from the decision to revoke the visas of three Radio Free Asia journalists to cover the visit. Instead, it only gave greater publicity to the station with Mr Clinton granting it an exclusive interview. At least, the journalists will be able to cover the President's stopover in the SAR where a different system of accreditation applies. It is not clear who is responsible for such short-sighted actions, nor whether they were acting under instructions from the central leadership. Whoever is involved clearly does not understand China's best interests, and risks jeopardising a golden chance to forge a strategic relationship for the next century - something almost everyone else, from Mr Jiang down, has every interest in encouraging. If the Clinton visit is to be a success, the leadership must prevent any more unwelcome and unjustified sideshows.