China sticks to hard line on rights

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The Independent Online
CHINA'S President, Jiang Zemin, yesterday said Sino- American relations were at a 'crucial juncture', but stuck to a robust line against US lobbying over human rights.

'Some Americans who censure China on the question of human rights fix their eyes only on the exceedingly small number of law-breakers who, having violated China's laws, having endangered China's national security, naturally should be brought to justice. Every country does this.' Mixing up human rights and legal questions was 'inappropriate', he said.

The US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, said yesterday that President Clinton would be unable to renew China's Most Favoured Nation (MFN) trade status unless it made 'significant progress' on human rights.

President Jiang said attaching conditions to the renewal of MFN trading status was 'a relic of the Cold War era'.

As if to highlight the possible material benefits of a non- confrontational approach, the German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, yesterday completed a visit to Peking during which German firms signed business deals worth dollars 2.8bn ( pounds 1.95bn).

Mr Kohl said he had discussed human rights 'extensively' with the Chinese Prime Minister, Li Peng, but would not give specific details about progress on this 'highly delicate' issue. A list of more than 20 names of political and religious prisoners presented by the Chancellor was with the Chinese and 'we have already been informed of first positive results . . . I'm confident that the review of the cases of the people concerned will be of benefit to them,' he said.

President Jiang, who is also head of the Chinese Communist Party, was speaking before he left Peking for Seattle, where he was to meet President Bill Clinton at the Asia- Pacific Economic Co-operation Forum meeting.

He said he hoped the meeting with President Clinton 'will seek common ground, while reserving differences' and 'put the past troubles between our two countries behind us at an early date'. The two countries 'must respect each other. Although there are differences . . . the shared interests between our two sides are far greater than the differences'.

Diplomats expect few specific results from the meeting, especially after China's surprise announcement last week that it would consider allowing access to its prisons by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Yesterday, President Jiang said a Red Cross request to conduct exchanges would be given 'positive consideration because it will contribute to mutual understanding'. He ignored a question about whether this went against China's stance that human rights are an internal issue.

Chancellor Kohl's visit is likely to bolster the arguments of the US business lobby that the US is losing out on the world's biggest business market. Among the German companies' contracts were an 800m mark ( pounds 325m) deal for China to buy six Airbus A340 planes, and a DM700m agreement for Siemens and AEG to build a metro system in Canton.