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British concern over Clinton's election pledges

BILL CLINTON, the front runner for the US presidency, has alarmed the British government with an aggressive policy on human rights in China and with promises to Irish-American voters that he will appoint a special peace envoy for Northern Ireland if elected.

The Government is concerned that a tougher US policy on trade with China would have a disastrous impact on Hong Kong and, by extension, British business interests. Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, who met China's foreign minister in New York, went on to question prominent Democrats and foreign policy experts on Mr Clinton's intentions towards China before leaving New York for Geneva.

Mr Clinton has previously savaged President George Bush's position on trade with China, asserting that he had 'let his friendships in China obscure what those kids did in Tiananmen Square'.

In a separate, but no less un- nerving, concern for the Government, Mr Clinton has reiterated that he is committed to intruding in the politics of Northern Ireland, by appointing a special 'peace envoy'. He told supporters and journalists in New York recently: 'I want you to know that I am committed to Irish issues such as the special envoy and that I intend to deliver on them. Tell your readers the Irish will have a friend in the White House.'

The special envoy proposal is not expected to be welcomed either in Dublin or London, where there is concern about the impact of Irish-American activists on US policy towards Northern Ireland.

But Mr Clinton's overture to the sizeable bloc of Irish-American voters is well thought out, as he tries to woo back many former Democratic voters who have voted Republican in the last three elections. The so-called 'Reagan Democrats' are now disillusioned with Republican politics because of the severity of the economic recession. Many of these key voters are Irish-Americans, and Mr Clinton has made a conscious effort to court them.

Ray Flynn, Boston's mayor, has been campaigning to become the special peace envoy for Ireland, and he accompanied the presidential candidate on his recent visit to New York. Others have suggested that the former president Jimmy Carter might be appointed. When Mr Clinton first raised the issue six months ago, he said: 'I support a peace envoy. We've been a little reluctant to relay our interests in a positive way because of two reasons: our long-standing relationship with Great Britain and also the perception that this situation in Northern Ireland is a very thorny problem.' Albert Reynolds, the Irish prime minister, poured cold water on the idea in a recent interview, in which he said that the appointment was not necessary while talks were going on in Northern Ireland.

Many remain sceptical that as president, Mr Clinton would live up to his promises. One diplomat said: 'A lot of things get said in an election race but when the hard reality of the presidency comes, the plans tend to evaporate.'

Voters' priorities, page 10