US scolds and cajoles China in same breath

WITH three months to go before President Clinton decides whether to extend China's Most-Favoured Nation (MFN) trading status, United States officials were in Peking yesterday, on the one hand detailing human-rights demands, and on the other, lobbying for US companies to win contracts.

John Shattuck, the Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights, said his two days of 'intensive, serious businesslike discussions' with senior officials had spelt out each condition in last June's presidential order that tied MFN renewal to improvements in human rights. 'Further human-rights progress is needed if MFN is to be renewed in June,' he said. The US wanted some 'concrete, achievable and reasonable steps'.

Mr Shattuck was laying the groundwork for a visit next week by the US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher. He said a detailed accounting of a list of 235 prisoners presented to the Chinese last October had still not been provided. China's most recent public-relations tactic in the human-rights dialogue was on Tuesday, showing a videotape of four well-known political prisoners in the hope of dismissing Western reports that they are in bad health. The screening, for five American reporters, showed Chen Ziming, Ren Wanding, Wang Juntao and Liu Gang, all imprisoned for their alleged role in the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy movement.

Earlier in the day, the US Under-Secretary of Commerce for International Trade, Jeffrey Garten, whose visit to Peking coincides with the human- rights mission, said he was lobbying for US companies to win billions of dollars of Chinese contracts in telecommunications, power generation and transportation. He said trade tensions between Washington and Peking were no barrier to expansion of US economic involvement in China.

Mr Shattuck denied that the US was sending mixed signals to China. 'I stressed that the American people know a reliable business partner is one that respects basic legal standards. And that steady human-rights improvements are essential to a long-term stable relationship between our two countries,' he said.

He said that there had been some progress by China over human rights: discussions with international humanitarian groups about access to prisoners, some releases of detainees, and some progress on emigration.