Gore vows not to let gift row sour ties with China

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The Independent Online
The investigation into alleged illegal campaign contributions by China would not derail improved Sino-US relations, the American Vice-President, Al Gore, said yesterday. But he added: "Should the allegations be proven to be true, then of course that would be a different matter. And I made it clear that would be serious indeed."

Winding up two days in Peking, he continued to be dogged by the controversy. He said it had not been discussed in yesterday's meeting with President Jiang Zemin but had been raised by the Prime Minister, Li Peng, on Tuesday. "[Mr Li] repeated the strong denial by China that the allegations are true. I then said the US views these allegations as very serious. However, they are the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation within our Justice Department, and it is premature to speculate on what the outcome of the investigation is."

Asked if his trip to China at this juncture would affect his political future, Mr Gore, the presumed front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2000, said: "That is for others to judge. I am not looking at it in that context."

The Washington Post has reported that the FBI told six members of Congress last year that they had been targeted by China to receive illegal campaign funds from foreign corporations.

Yesterday Mr Gore preferred to dwell on more positive aspects of his trip, the highest-level visit by a US politician since the 1989 Tiananmen massacre. The issues raised included arms proliferation, human rights, trade, Hong Kong and the environment. The trip was "proof positive" of US commitment to a working relationship with China.

On human rights, Mr Gore said he noticed "a more receptive response" and a more "muted tone" than when previously discussing this topic. Cases of specific dissidents were raised by Mr Gore but he declined to give names. There has been speculation that Wang Dan, the former student leader sentenced in October to 11 years in jail, may be paroled and allowed to leave for the US.

Given the furore in the US over possible Chinese campaign contributions, Peking may be willing to offer some human- rights or trade concession to Washington in the run-up to the annual debate on renewing China's most- favoured nation trading status. The next few months will also focus on preparing for President Jiang's summit in Washington with Bill Clinton, expected in November. The US trade deficit with China - $39.5bn (pounds 24bn) last year - will feature prominently in relations this year.

Yesterday, Mr Gore said he "did not pull any punches" in raising the "still serious and systemic obstacles to greater access for American companies" to the Chinese market.

Today Mr Gore and his wife, Tipper, are to fly to Xian to see the terracotta warriors. The Vice-President leaves China for Seoul tomorrow.