Gap on rights remains during China trade talks


BEIJING -- The United States and China are talking again on human rights issues. But the first set of talks didn't produce progress, and China remains far from meeting new U.S. criteria for maintaining its favorable trade status.

John Shattuck, assistant U.S. secretary of state for humanitarian affairs, said here yesterday that formal, high-level discussions on China's human rights abuses have resumed after a break of two years.

He described his Chinese counterparts as "attentive" to U.S. concerns about human rights in two days of talks, which concluded here yesterday. Today through Friday, he will also visit Tibet, the Himalayan province where China has been accused of brutally suppressing the local population.

Mr. Shattuck didn't cite any specific progress that could help China retain its most-favored-nation trade standing with the United States. Despite the recent releases of several longtime political prisoners, most observers believe China has been showing a hardened resolve not to give in to U.S. pressure on this issue.

A June executive order from President Clinton mandates that China must show "significant overall progress" in specific areas to qualify for its annual most-favored-nation extension in June 1994.

Those areas include complying with a 1992 agreement barring exports of prison-made goods to the United States; releasing imprisoned political and religious dissidents, including jailed 1989 Tiananmen Square protesters; protecting Tibet's distinctive religious and cultural heritage; and permitting international radio and television broadcasts into China.

These standards mean that next year's most-favored-nation debate may involve more clear-cut and stringent examination of China's record than took place during the last years of President George Bush's administration, when the annual debate was driven by domestic politics.

"The Chinese haven't quite caught up with the fact that it's a different ballgame this year," Robin Munro of Asia Watch, the human rights group, said in Hong Kong recently. "They don't seem to appreciate they're not going to be able to release a few dissidents from prison at the last minute next year and then qualify for MFN.

"They're going to have to meet certain conditions, which right now they haven't got a chance of meeting," he said. "China doesn't seem to know that it's in real danger of losing MFN."

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