China risks calling US bluff on rights

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The Independent Online
THE CHINESE government, facing the most concerted action by dissidents, intellectuals and labour activists since the run-up to the 1989 pro-

democracy movement, yesterday continued to defy the United States over the question of human rights.

The President, Jiang Zemin, told the visiting US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, that 'some people in the West' do not care about the well-being of the majority of the Chinese people, they 'only show concern about a small number of people who attempt to subvert China's government and who attempt to undermine the stability of China. Questions regarding this tiny number of people are political and legal matters, not a question of human rights.'

Emboldened by its position as the world's largest developing market, the Chinese government is set to risk calling any US bluff over renewal of its Most Favoured Nation (MFN) trading status, which this year is tied to improvements in China's human rights record. Mr Christopher was again told by President Jiang that the US should not try to impose its values on China.

But China's crackdown on dissidents over the past two weeks, and its willingness to ignore any impact this might have on the MFN decision in June, has also revealed Peking's fear of any resurgence of a pro-democracy movement.

Over the past two weeks, the 'small number of people' dismissed by President Jiang, ranging from former student leaders to ageing academics, have, despite the risk of retaliation, issued petitions calling for workers' rights and improved human rights. It is noticeable that China's harshest response has been directed towards those trying to give legal voice to the grievances of the country's ordinary workers.

The first document to surface was a petition to the National People's Congress (NPC), whose annual meeting opened last week, urging greater protection of the rights of rural and urban workers and more attention to the fight against corruption. Then came a charter for a new organisation, the League for the Protection of Working People, backed by 120 people around China. Its petition announced: 'In China, as officialdom becomes more corrupt, there is no safeguard for citizens' rights. Furthermore, inflation, large-scale unemployment, and the worsening of public safety are making the situation increasingly serious. The people are dissatisfied and feel very strongly about it.'

An organisation tapping such dissatisfaction would terrify the Chinese government. Of the League's three principal sponsors, one, Yuan Hongbing, a law professor, was arrested a week before Mr Christopher's arrival on suspicion of 'inciting turmoil and disrupting social order'. The whereabouts of the other two, Liu Nianchan, a veteran activist, and Wang Zhongqui, a law student, are not generally known.

Separate from the labour rights petitions, a third document was released on 10 March signed by seven intellectuals led by the science historian, Xu Liangying. 'We appeal to the authorities to bravely put an end to China's practice over thousands of years of punishing people for their thinking, speech and writings, and to release those who have been imprisoned because of their ideology and speech,' the statement said. For the past few days, Mr Xu and his wife have been under virtual house arrest.

At least two other open letters have also been issued. Wang Dan, one of the main student leaders of the June 1989 Tiananmen Square movement, wrote: 'It is time for the protection of human rights and the political rights of individuals to be put on the (NPC's) agenda.' Xin Hong, who was detained on Saturday night and released yesterday, called for the country to experiment with direct elections of state leaders.

US business fears, page 25