Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright announced yesterday that she will visit Hong Kong when it reverts from British to Chinese rule in July to show American support for the city's way of life and freedom.
In a gentle warning to Beijing, Albright noted that the United States has tangible interests in the prosperous, free-wheeling island state beyond human rights: 40,000 Americans live there, U.S. investment totals $13 billion and Navy ships use Hong Kong's port.
But in a speech to a foreign policy conference at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, she stressed that the United States is most concerned by how China will treat political dissenters in Hong Kong.
"China is changing, but the Chinese government's repression of political dissent has not," she told an assembly of midshipmen and conference participants.
Albright said that in accepting the joint British-Chinese invitation for the reversion ceremony, "I will underline American support for the continuation of Hong Kong's current way of life and freedoms."
She also was urged to attend by Martin Lee, leader of Hong Kong's largest democratic party, who is visiting Washington this week.
Under its agreement with Britain, China is supposed to grant Hong Kong what Albright called a "high degree of autonomy" and preserve its basic freedoms. But there is little the West can do to enforce these terms beyond exerting political pressure.
Fears that China would flout world opinion have deepened over the past two weeks with the announcement of its plans to curb political protests in Hong Kong and to require political groups to register with the government.
It also has threatened to ban political parties and protests on national security grounds.
Albright's announcement came on the same day that the United States suffered a defeat at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, as China once again succeeded in derailing a resolution critical of its human rights policies. "We regret that decision," Albright said of the commission's action.
China divided European countries with threats of economic retaliation. It also told Denmark, which sponsored that resolution, that state visits would be suspended.
Albright's address was billed as her first major speech on Asia and gave a broad sweep of U.S. policy toward the region.
In what a State Department spokesman said was the strongest American criticism to date of the military dictatorship in Myanmar (formerly Burma), Albright said that the government there has further restricted political expression, and she warned that "unless the clouds of repression are lifted, they will face investment sanctions under U.S. law."
But the speech's main focus was China, and it appeared to be an effort to spell out a clear administration policy.
The administration has been buffeted by charges that China attempted to funnel money secretly into last year's political race to support the Democratic Party. These charges added to the awkwardness of a recent trip by Vice President Al Gore to China.
The White House faces a bitter battle this spring or this summer, when Congress takes its annual vote on maintaining favorable trade treatment for China.
The administration wants to separate the granting of most-favored-nation treatment from China's record on human rights and help China meet conditions for joining the World Trade Organization.
The annual debate, Albright said last night, "has failed to advance American interests or to produce progress in China."
Apart from criticizing China on human rights, Albright struck an overall conciliatory note toward the emerging economic, political and military giant of Asia.
"We are not yet where we want to be, nor has China evolved as rapidly or thoroughly as some have hoped, but the direction we must go is clear: greater interaction based on China's acceptance of international norms."
She mentioned -- but refrained from harsh words on -- weapons proliferation, the source of major problems for the United States for a number of years. Critics fear that China is helping rogue states such as Iran acquire weapons of mass destruction.
Far from repeating House Speaker Newt Gingrich's recent pledge that the United States would defend Taiwan, Albright said, "We have stressed to both Beijing and Taipei that our
'one-China' policy is firm, and that they should do all they can to build mutual confidence and avoid provocative actions and words."
She said containment of China, advocated by some on Capitol Hill, "assumes and would, in fact, guarantee an outcome contrary to American interests."
Pub Date: 4/16/97