Chinese officials curb dissidents with approach of Albright visit


BEIJING -- At least three dissidents have been detained in the past week. Others report intensified police scrutiny. Since Wednesday, so many police have been following He Xintong, the wife of imprisoned dissident leader Xu Wenli, that she realized something must be up.

"They are on bicycles, on motorcycles and in cars, and they all have walkie-talkies so they can communicate with each other," said He, who is accustomed to police harassment but was puzzled by the sudden surge of interest in her activities -- until she heard a foreign radio news broadcast that explained everything.

No, it's not that a fresh crackdown against political freedoms is being launched, only that U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright is due to arrive in Beijing tonight. The authorities are taking the customary precautions to make sure dissidents don't take advantage of her visit to try to draw attention to themselves, by staging protests, granting media interviews or perhaps attempting to meet her.

But in the wake of the release of a State Department report harshly critical of China's repression of political dissent over the past year, the spotlight is already focused on the issue of human rights and the challenge it poses to the United States' deteriorating relationship with China.

China responded angrily yesterday to the report, expressing "strong resentment and firm opposition" to its criticisms.

"Without uttering a single word about cases of serious human rights violations in its own country, the U.S. government fabricated unwarranted charges upon another country's human rights conditions," the official New China news agency quoted Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue as saying.

Pub Date: 2/28/99

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