Rights groups condemn Clinton over China

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The Independent Online
WESTERN governments will have to devise more sophisticated ways to put pressure on China over human rights following President Bill Clinton's decision that linking trade and human rights does not work, political analysts in Peking said yesterday.

'Just wagging a finger is no good with the Chinese. There is a need to look at more creative ways of trying to engage them,' said a Western diplomat.

Mr Clinton's announcement that he was renewing China's Most Favoured Nation trading status was welcomed by the Chinese government, jubilant US businessmen and by Chris Patten, Governor of Hong Kong. But it brought a stern rebuke from one US-based human rights group, Human Rights Watch/Asia, that the administration had been left looking 'vacillating and hypocritical'.

This year's MFN renewal had been tied to wide-ranging human rights improvements but the threat of trade sanctions in the end failed to wrest any significant compromises from Peking. The Chinese government, increasingly confident in its role as an emerging economic superpower and at the same time terrified of domestic instability, had refused to give in to US pressure, except on a handful of dissident releases, leaving Mr Clinton the task of reshaping his China policy.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Wu Jianmin, yesterday said delinking trade and human rights issues would 'create favourable conditions for the further strengthening and expansion of trade and economic co-operation between the two sides and the improvement and development of overall relations' between Peking and Washington. But he added that China hoped Mr Clinton would quickly 'remove all obstacles detrimental to the development of these relations', including the only restraint that was introduced by the President, a ban on the import of Chinese guns and ammunition. Sanctions introduced after the June 1989 Tiananmen Square shootings, barring the sale to China of military equipment and technology, also remain.

The decision to renew MFN had been well signalled, but until the last moment it had been unclear whether Mr Clinton would include any alternative measures. By the end there was broad agreement, including among most dissidents inside China, that a full- scale Sino-US trade war would harm rather than aid the pressures within the country for political change. So the sharpest criticism yesterday came from groups such as HRW/Asia, which had accepted the need for MFN renewal but lobbied for other less severe economic measures, such as more modest import tariff increases. 'No one can be opposed to a ban on exports of guns and ammunition to this country,' said Sidney Jones of HRW/Asia. 'But as pressure on China, it's meaningless. Is a ban on guns going to persuade China to release jailed dissidents?'

Mr Clinton said the US intended 'to stay engaged with those in China who suffer from human rights abuses', but the strategy for a new-style constructive engagement has yet to emerge. China has signed various international agreements, such as the Convention Against Torture, and the Western diplomat said more emphasis could now be put on holding China to these agreements. 'There are many human rights issues to discuss, such as access by lawyers at the point of arrest. The West should also look at training people, including lawyers and judges, and at exchange programmes with the police. These are not headline-grabbing, but they are practical, slow, solid ways of changing how things are done in China.'