China yields little to US on human rights

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THE PLANS for a joint press conference as the finale for the US Secretary of State's three- day visit to Peking had evaporated as quickly as the hope that the Chinese might offer signs of significant human rights progress.

So yesterday morning there were competing events. In the Diaoyutai state guest house in the west of the city, China's Foreign Minister, Qian Qichen, declared: 'China and the US have different human rights concepts. It's worthless to put pressure on human rights.' Meanwhile, at his hotel on the other side of the city, where blanket Chinese security was ensuring no dissidents would spring any unwelcome surprises, Warren Christopher attempted to put a more upbeat spin on the visit: 'I find the differences between China and the US are narrowing somewhat,' he said.

Mr Christopher left Peking yesterday with minor concessions from China that fall far short of the 'significant progress' on human rights that President Bill Clinton has set as a prerequisite for renewal in June of China's Most Favoured Nation (MFN) trading status. 'If the differences have narrowed, it's because the US has realised it must accept less,' said one Western diplomat. Indeed, at the weekend the US Secretary of State had merely urged US businessmen to convince the Chinese to make 'at least the limited progress' sought in the 11 weeks left.

Mr Christopher described yesterday morning's meeting with Mr Qian as 'businesslike and productive'. The two sides signed a statement of co- operation which should allow US inspections of prisons that it suspects of exporting forced labour products to America; in practice, however, this new memorandum of understanding merely tries to enforce an August 1992 agreement on prison access that has usually been blocked by the Chinese.

On political prisoners, Mr Christopher said he had received a 'rather detailed accounting' of a list of 235 better-known prisoners previously submitted by US officials. This accounting simply divides the prisoners into certain categories. Mr Qian promised in the 'near future' a similar list of 106 Tibetan prisoners, said Mr Christopher, but the Chinese had cited 'language problems' for the delay.

China itself admits to more than 3,000 prisoners held for 'counter-revolutionary' offences. Mr Christopher said he had nothing to say about any actual releases.

These meagre signs of dialogue were nevertheless welcome to the Americans after the warning by the Prime Minister, Li Peng, on Saturday that 'the US will suffer no less than China' if MFN were withdrawn.

Admitting that he 'wouldn't describe it as a breakthrough', Mr Christopher said it had been 'better than Saturday's meeting' when Mr Qian had lambasted him for a recent meeting between the senior US human rights envoy, John Shattuck, and China's best-known dissident, Wei Jingsheng. Following that meeting, China detained at least 17 dissidents and activists, and dispatched others from Peking, to thwart any more meetings with US officials. Two detained Shanghai dissidents were freed yesterday after the US team left town.

Mr Christopher said China had agreed to resolve remaining emigration cases, and had affirmed support for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Discussions with the International Committee of the Red Cross on prisoner visits, initiated last November, would move to the expert level soon. China had also agreed to 'review information' on interference with Voice of America broadcasting signals.

DETROIT - President Clinton, attending a conference in Detroit, said that he was 'disappointed' about the visit, Reuter reports. 'Our policy is the same. We'll just have to wait and see what happens beween now and June.'