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Human rights take center stage in Beijing talks

Clinton and Jiang In this story:

January 29, 1997
Web posted at: 8:15 p.m. EST (0115 GMT)

BEIJING (CNN) -- Human rights take center stage here again this week with the arrival Tuesday of a U.S. delegation for talks with Chinese officials on human rights and trade.

Their arrival comes at a time when U.S.-China relations have been more cordial than in some time, and yet there are unresolved issues that could heat things up again. Human rights is foremost among them.

Only hours after the delegation reached Beijing, President Clinton made remarks during a U.S. press conference critical of China's record on human rights.

Also the U.S. government is expected to soon release its annual report on human rights abuse, a report that is expected to accuse China of rounding up or exiling all of its remaining active dissidents.

The Xinhua New Agency, the official voice for Chinese policy, was muted in its response to Clinton's comments Wednesday. It mentioned only Clinton's defense of his policy toward China in its newscasts, and said nothing about his human rights remarks. Nor did it respond to his comment that the growth of personal liberty in China is inevitable.

U.S. hopes to avoid critical U.N. resolution

However, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman did reply more pointedly Wednesday, voicing a familiar refrain when it comes to human rights.

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"The national conditions of China and the United States are not the same," she said, "and it is natural for different views on human rights to exist."

Nevertheless, the U.S. delegation currently visiting hopes to get concessions from the Chinese that would make it unnecessary for Washington to sponsor a resolution at the U.N. Human Rights Commission in March faulting China's rights policy. But sources say it is unlikely.

According to Human Rights Watch in Asia, 1996 was a mopping up year for the Chinese government. It says authorities sentenced to prison and labor camps several dozen well-known and lesser-known dissidents.

But the United States is expected to continue its conciliatory policy toward China, and a Western diplomat here says the arrival of the delegation is a sign that both countries want to keep things on the upswing.

Jiang, Clinton to exchange visits

Although there are disputes over issues ranging from textiles to Taiwan and copyright piracy, Chinese President Jiang Zemin and Clinton are expected to exchange state visits later this year. And U.S. Ambassador Jim Sasser echoes Washington's pragmatic air.

Sasser

"We have to recognize that there are limits on how we can influence the policy not just of China but many other countries on the whole question of human rights," Sasser said.

"We're dealing here with different cultures, and although we must continue to express our concerns in a very vigorous and a very forthright manner, we must understand that human rights is one of a whole constellation of issues in which our government engages the Chinese government and the Chinese people."

Another prickly issue is Hong Kong. President Clinton aired his concerns over what would happen when Hong Kong reverts to Chinese control on July 1.

China has proposed reversing some of the civil liberties enjoyed by Hong Kong residents when it takes over. It also has charged that changes made under British rule violate the Basic Law, a constitution drawn up by Beijing in 1990 for Hong Kong.

A spokeswoman in China's Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that "Under the Basic Law, the people of Hong Kong have full freedom and all democratic rights," and that any changes are unnecessary. She also said that China's constitution and laws protects the rights of members of all its nationalities.

Progress on textile agreement

Meanwhile, negotiators say they are making progress in talks to extend a textile agreement and end a dispute over U.S. penalties on Chinese exports. Washington and Beijing hope to reach agreement before the Friday deadline for renewal of their 1994 textile trade accord.

At issue is the $19 million worth of penalties Washington put on Chinese textiles last September for shipping textiles through third countries to evade quota restrictions.

China has threatened to retaliate by banning imports of some U.S. textiles, farm goods and alcoholic drinks, but has delayed doing so while talks continue.

Beijing Bureau Chief Andrea Koppel and Reuters contributed to this report.

 
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