China defies US pressure on rights

PEKING police yesterday took in for questioning one of the student leaders of the June 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, just hours after the United States Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, had warned of the 'strong distaste' felt at the recent detentions of dissidents. China's actions would have a 'negative effect' on his visit to China later this week, he added.

As the two sides traded insults, China hit out at 'irresponsible remarks' from President Bill Clinton, who has called on China to release those still held, including three activist lawyers who face criminal charges.

China's comments and actions during the day made it clear that Peking puts maintenance of its internal political and social stability well ahead of yielding to Washington's concerns on human rights. With inflation high, corruption rampant and labour disputes growing, China's annual meeting of parliament, starting tomorrow, will focus on how to manage economic reform without risking social unrest.

Wang Dan, who last week was detained for 24 hours but rejected police suggestions that he leave Peking during the National People's Congress (NPC), was taken from his home yesterday evening for questioning and later released. On Monday, Mr Wang had said in an interview broadcast on ABC Television: 'If the government continues these widespread arrests then we will at least have to engage in collective protest.'

He told Reuters by telephone that the police accused him of 'falsehoods and rumour-mongering' in his recent speeches and said his actions and words had gone outside the limit of what a 'socialist citizen' could do.

Peking is determined to stop dissidents meeting visiting US officials. Last week the visiting US human rights envoy, John Shattuck, met China's most famous dissident, Wei Jingsheng, who was subsequently detained for 30 hours.

The atmosphere has soured considerably ahead of Friday's arrival in Peking of Mr Christopher. Speaking in Canberra yesterday, en route to Asia, he said: 'It would be hard to overstate the strong distaste we all feel at recent detentions and other measures taken by the Chinese.' He added: 'Certainly these actions will have a negative effect on my trip to China as well as the subsequent review within the US.'

Washington will decide in June whether China has made sufficient human rights improvements for its Most Favoured Nation trading status to be renewed.

China yesterday was defiant about the possibility that the recent detentions of dissidents were putting billions of dollars of exports at risk. 'No foreign country, organisation or individual has the right to make irresponsible remarks or interfere,' a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

Around 10 political activists, many of whom were involved in the 1989 democracy movement, have been hauled in by security forces and told to keep a low profile during the NPC and Mr Christopher's visit.

'China is a sovereign state. To summon and interrogate according to law those who violate criminal law and other laws falls entirely within the scope of China's sovereignty . . . This issue, which is purely an internal affair of China, has nothing to do with the forthcoming visit to China by the US Secretary of State,' said the Foreign Ministry.

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