China resists US demand on civil rights

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PARIS - China took new steps yesterday to address United States human rights concerns but the US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, said these were not enough to warrant renewal of American preferential trade benefits.

Mr Christopher, half way through talks in Paris with the Chinese Foreign Minister, Qian Qichen, called the discussions 'positive and constructive' and announced plans for more high-level contacts, including a possible trip to Peking by the secretary himself.

But while Mr Qian agreed to discuss 235 rights cases raised by the US, Mr Christopher said there was no progress on President Clinton's demand for the release of pro-democracy demonstrators jailed after the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989.

There had been speculation that China might announce plans at yesterday's meeting for a new release of jailed dissidents, but that did not happen.

In announcing his decision last June to renew trade benefits, called most favoured nation (MFN) status, for one year, Mr Clinton said the next extension would depend on China showing 'overall significant progress' in improving human rights.

He cited several specific areas, including 'releasing and providing an acceptable accounting for Chinese citizens imprisoned or detained for the non-violent expression of their political and religious beliefs'.

Mr Qian reiterated Peking's view that rights and trade should not be linked but said he would discuss them anyway.

'We had a very constructive and positive meeting,' Mr Christopher said afterwards. He also stressed: 'We have not in my judgement made enough progress to justify my saying there has been significant overall progress.'

Asked about Mr Clinton's demand for release of Tiananmen Square protesters, Mr Christopher said: 'We haven't made any progress yet today.'

The human rights group, Chinese House of Democracy, set up by French and Chinese students in Paris after the Tiananmen Square protests, said Peking was still dragging its feet on human rights, Reuter reports.

'Qian said himself two months ago that there are 3,600 political prisoners in China,' said the group's spokeswoman, Nancy Li. 'Two or three are being released every four years. At that rate, the last political prisoner can count on being released in the 27th century.'

LONDON - Chris Patten, the Hong Kong Governor, yesterday made a new offer to negotiate with China over his plan for more democracy in the British colony but vowed to push on with the proposals if Peking refuses to talk.

Negotiations on the future of the colony broke down in November, with China vowing to scrap any electoral changes in 1997.