Albright and China clash over rights

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The Independent Online
BLUNT TALK on human rights and irreconcilable views on missile deployment yesterday marked the end of a two-day visit to Peking by the American Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, who nevertheless said that Sino-US relations were strong enough to withstand "even sharp disagreements".

Ms Albright is the most senior US administration official to visit China since Peking launched a crackdown on dissent and sentenced a string of activists to lengthy prison sentences. She said human rights had proved the "most difficult topic" in her meetings with China's leaders. "I made clearthat it was very important for there to be a change in the atmosphere, that there had to be an end to the crackdown. There had to be a release of people," she said afterwards.

"Last June our two Presidents agreed to a candid dialogue on human rights. In the last two days we have seen what a candid dialogue looks like. I made clear America's view that a society is more, not less, likely to be stable when citizens have an outlet for the peaceful expression of political views," she said, in reference to the imprisonment of those who had tried to set up the China Democracy Party. But her words brought no concessions from the Chinese side.

Top of Peking's agenda of contentious issues was Washington's plan for a theatre missile defence (TMD) system, which might encompass Taiwan. "I replied that, instead of worrying about a decision that has not been made to deploy defensive technologies that do not yet exist, China should focus its energies on the real source of the problem - the proliferation of missiles," said Ms Albright. She called on China to use its influence to encourage restraint by North Korea on missile development, and to develop dialogue with Taiwan.

China views Americanprotestations that TMD would be a defensive system as disingenuous at best. The Foreign Ministry spokesman, Zhu Bangzao, said: "The situation on the Korean peninsula is stable and we oppose the move by some countries to use this situation as an excuse to strengthen military alliances and build up defence capabilities. That is not conducive to peace and stability, and may trigger arms races at various levels."