Nothing settled in Seattle talks: Presidents fail to break the deadlock in Sino-American relations

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The Independent Online
SEATTLE - As the United States and China emerged from their first contact at presidential level since the Tiananmen Square massacre more than four years ago, there was scant sign of any headway in resolving differences in human rights abuses and nuclear proliferation, writes David Usborne.

Before Bill Clinton and Jiang Zemin met in Seattle on Friday as part of the 15-member Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum, there had been hopes of a breakthrough in the relationship. In a conciliatory gesture, the US had announced the sale of a meteorological super-computer to the Chinese.

None the less, Mr Clinton detailed five areas of human rights on which the US would expect progress before the deadline next May for the extension of trading privileges to China under the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) system. The presentation, said US Secretary of State Warren Christopher, led to an 'animated discussion' between Mr Clinton and President Jiang. Despite the stand-off on human rights, officials from both sides emphasised that dialogue between the countries would continue. Both Mr Clinton and Mr Christopher were formally invited to visit China. Although the Secretary of State may visit in the coming weeks, Mr Clinton is unlikely to go before he has evidence of reform.

'I believe we have made a good beginning,' Mr Clinton insisted. 'I always believe the best beginning in a challenging situation is to be as frank and forthright as possible, and I think that I did that and I believe that he (Mr Jiang) did that.'

US officials said the five human rights issues mentioned by Mr Clinton were not an exhaustive list of American concerns. Nor is the US spelling out how far China must go in addressing American demands before its MFN status is renewed.

Both countries shared concern over suspicions of a nuclear weapons programme in North Korea. The US, China, South Korea and Japan agreed to urge North Korea into talks with its neighbours and the International Atomic Energy Agency.