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Albright to raise human rights issues during China visit

albright February 24, 1997
Web posted at: 9:20 a.m. EST (1420 GMT)

BEIJING (CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright took a firm stand Monday, pledging not to shy away from human rights issues as she began five hours of meetings with Chinese officials on the eve of Deng Xiaoping's funeral.

"I believe it very important to raise issues where we have common understandings, as well as those where we have differences," the secretary said. "And so I will be raising the human rights questions, as the vice minister has said everyone expects me to raise them, and I will. icon (119K/10 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

mourning

Albright was to conclude her nine-city, 10-day jaunt around the world Tuesday in China. She arrived just hours after the cremation of the paramount leader's body at a Beijing cemetery. Her planned visit was shortened to less than 24 hours because of Deng's death last Wednesday.

Since the 92-year-old Deng was considered a private citizen in China, Western dignitaries were not invited to attend Tuesday's funeral. Albright, the only senior Western official to visit Beijing during the six-day mourning period following Deng's death, brought with her condolences on behalf of U.S. President Bill Clinton. icon (11(k/10 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

Deng, she said, was a "historic figure whose leadership produced dramatic economic transformation ... and who contributed much to the development of U.S.-China relations."

qian

Albright and her Chinese counterpart, Foreign Minister Qian Qichen, emphasized the importance of relations between the two countries before their meeting.

"We may not see eye to eye on some other issues," Qian said. "However I believe the meetings and discussions between us can at least contribute to enhancing mutual understanding." icon (153K/13 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

The U.S. official described relations with the Chinese as "a key to stability as we go into the 21st century."

Albright is also meeting with Prime Minister Li Pen and Deng's successor, President and Communist Party chief Ziang Zemin, during her brief visit to China.

Among the specific issues Albright brings to the table is China's progress in releasing political prisoners. She acknowledged that some releases have taken place, but said "obviously we would like to see more."

Qian defended his country's record, denying that the government imprisoned people for their political views and saying Chinese courts dealt fairly with "sentenced criminals."

As Albright arrived in Beijing, the U.S. State Department disputed a published report that a U.S.-China breakthrough on human rights was imminent.

The New York Times reported that after seven months of secret diplomacy, Albright would be trying to "nudge" the Chinese toward agreeing "to sign two key United Nations covenants on human rights, release a representative group of up to eight political prisoners and restart talks with the International Committee of the Red Cross aimed at establishing a program of prison visits to determine the status of the thousands of prisoners of conscience in China."

But State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said that Times story was not accurate, adding that the U.S. had received "no indication" that any such "major breakthrough" was about to take place.

Correspondent Steve Hurst and Reuters contributed to this report.

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