WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- President-elect Bill Clinton, who accused President Bush during the campaign of coddling China's dictators, suggested yesterday that Mr. Bush's policies toward China were showing signs of reducing human rights and trade violations.
Mr. Clinton did not explain his sudden but striking difference in tone, which came one day after he held a long chat with President Bush, mostly about foreign affairs.
The policies that Mr. Clinton seemed to endorse yesterday were a year old.
During a news conference at the Capitol, Mr. Clinton was reminded that Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, D-Maine, had called the Bush administration's foreign policy toward China "immoral" and declared that Washington should withdraw favored-trade status from China to force it to comply with human-rights standards.
Mr. Clinton said: "I noted with satisfaction that in the last several months, when the Bush administration, for whatever reason, maybe because of the changing political climate, took a tougher line on goods made with prison labor, on unfair trade practices, we began to have more moderation.
"China now has a $15 billion-a-year trade surplus with us," Mr. Clinton continued. "I know we create a lot of jobs with trade with China, but they've got a $15 billion surplus. They have a big stake in that. We have a big stake in not isolating China, in seeing that China continues to develop a market economy.
"But we also have to insist, I believe, on progress in human rights and human decency. And I think there are indications in the last few months that a firm hand by our government can help to achieve that."