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World - Asia/Pacific

U.S., China exchange barbs as Albright visit begins

March 1, 1999
Web posted at: 12:02 a.m. EST (0502 GMT)


In this story:

Activists detained on eve of talks

Beijing annoyed by U.S. missile plan in Asia

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



BEIJING (CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright engaged in a war of words about human rights with Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan as the United States and China prepared to discuss a variety of politically charged issues.

Albright said Washington "deplored" Beijing's crackdown on pro-democracy activists while Tang blasted the United States for "wantonly interfering in other countries' affairs."

"A handful of anti-China elements within the United States are going all out to interfere with and obstruct the normal development of China-U.S. relations," Tang said before the talks.

"We've always been opposed to politicizing the human rights question and to wantonly interfering in other countries' affairs by using human rights questions as an excuse," he said.

But Albright said human rights were a "question of grave concern" and she would raise the issue with Tang.

"We have deplored the actions that have taken place recently," she said of the crackdown on dissent that began last year and continued over the weekend with the detention or jailing of several dissidents.

U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin suggested that lack of improvement by China on human rights and other issues could hinder progress on her official mission, to negotiate with Premier Zhu Rongji terms for joining the World Trade Organization. The goal is to admit China in time for Zhu's trip to Washington in April.

Only two days ago, the State Department released an annual human rights report saying human rights deteriorated sharply in China last year. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said China was displeased with the report.

Activists detained on eve of talks

The Information Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China said an opposition activist was recently sentenced, on trumped-up charges, to 18 months in a labor camp.

The center also said police detained two members of the China Democracy Party, the banned group at the center of last year's crackdown. They were taken into custody over the weekend.

China says such crackdowns are justified.

"At this moment, we have to do that. Otherwise stability in China will be disrupted," Tao Wenzhao of the Academy of Social Sciences said.

The detentions capped a week in which Washington and Beijing squared off on a range of unrelated issues that highlighted the complexity of a relationship U.S. President Bill Clinton has said could become a "strategic partnership."

Rubin said these disputes had always been "part and parcel" of the relationship and it was coincidence that U.S. actions had hit the headlines in the week before the visit.

"This is not a crisis-related trip. ... Each decision was taken on its own merits, on its own timetable," he said.

Rubin was referring to the human rights report, a U.S. decision not to let Hughes Electronics sell a communications satellite to a Chinese-led consortium, and a Pentagon report to Congress on Chinese missile deployments close to Taiwan.

On Thursday, Beijing voiced "strong resentment" at the Clinton administration's veto of the sale of the $450 million satellite, which Washington justified on the grounds that the Chinese military had a stake in the consortium.

The Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said the U.S. security concerns cited for stopping the sale were "groundless" and it would hurt the bilateral economic relationship.

But a recent congressional report included charges that China stole U.S. military secrets.

Beijing annoyed by U.S. missile plan in Asia

Albright also will face a grilling by Chinese counterpart Tang Jiaxuan over the proposed U.S. missile defense system to protect Japan and South Korea. Beijing's rival Taiwan also wishes to join.

"This is not conducive to the peace and stability of the world and region," a foreign ministry spokesman said. "It may also trigger arms races at various levels."

The Pentagon report indicated that in six years China could launch an effective air and missile strike against Taiwan.

China has denounced the missile defense shield, and the London-based Financial Times said last week that China made a veiled threat to transfer missile technology to third countries if Washington established such a missile umbrella.

A Chinese about-face on missile proliferation would reverse one of the relatively few successes the Clinton administration has to show from its policy of strategic dialogue with China.

Albright will tell Beijing it can affect the outcome of the debate by restraining its arms program and urging North Korea to do the same, Rubin said.

Reuters contributed to this report.


RELATED STORIES:
Human rights survey hits China, Cuba, Serbia, Turkey
February 26, 1999
Chinese release dissident journalist from prison
February 15, 1999

RELATED SITES:
China - CIA World Factbook
Inside China Today
Chinese Embassy in Washington DC
Universal Declararion of Human Rights
   •United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Amnesty International

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