In his election campaign Mr Clinton accused President Bush of not pushing hard enough on human rights in China, but he has since backed away from a confrontation.
In giving China credit for a slight improvement, the report reduces the chances that Mr Clinton will revoke its 'most favoured nation' trade status when it comes up for renewal in June.
The report also says the Chinese 'human rights record in 1993 fell far short of international accepted norms as it continued to repress domestic critics and failed to control abuses by its own security forces'. Since it was completed China has released some prisoners and allowed prisons to be inspected - concessions that State Department officials are expected to mention in testimony before Congress.
Started by President Carter in 1977 - and much disliked by some diplomats - the annual State Department report on civil rights now covers 193 countries and absorbs a great amount of time in US embassies abroad. Ken Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch in New York, says the quality of information collected has improved and assembling it forces embassies to be in touch with human rights groups.
The 1,500-page report appears tougher than before on US allies such as Saudi Arabia and Israel. Under President Reagan and President Bush the assistant secretary of state in charge of human rights, Richard Schifter, was believed by human rights organisations personally to rewrite and tone down the report on Israeli actions in the West Bank and Gaza.
In Saudi Arabia in 1993, the report notes, 85 people were executed 'by beheading, sometimes followed by gibbeting'. A Filipino was held in a Saudi jail without charge for four years because the paperwork about his arrest was misplaced by the arresting officer. An Egyptian, Mikhail Cornelius Michail, received 500 lashes for blasphemy and was deported.
Mr Roth said the State Department had had a long internal debate about whether or not to describe Bosnian Serb actions against Bosnian Muslims as genocide. In the event the report refers to 'a brutal campaign of terror - in which acts of genocide took place - to establish an ethnically pure state'.