CHICAGO — AS the Clinton administration debates whether to continue making special trade status for China contingent on progress in human rights, paroled political prisoner Wang Juntao has a recommendation.
Mr. Wang, a Chinese intellectual accused by Beijing as one of two key ``black hands'' behind the Tiananmen Square protests, was detained in 1989 and sentenced in 1991 to 13 years in jail for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government. During each of his past four-and-a-half years in solitary confinement, as Washington began to appraise Beijing's human rights record prior to renewing China's most-favored-nation (MFN) trade status, Wang noticed an improvement in his treatment by prison authorities.
``Every time the United States and China discussed MFN, my treatment in prison became a little better. But after the talks were over and the decision to renew MFN was made, there was immediately a regression and things worsened for me,'' Wang says.
Wang received the ultimate benefit of the annual MFN debate on April 23, when Chinese authorities released him ``on bail for medical treatment'' for heart and lung ailments and put him on board a flight for the US.
The Clinton administration welcomed Wang's last-minute parole as a sign of progress by Beijing on human rights. Under an executive order issued last year, China must show ``significant, overall progress'' in the treatment of political prisoners and other human rights areas by June 3, the deadline for President Clinton to renew China's MFN status.
China seeks a permanent, unconditional renewal of the preferential trade status, without which tariffs on Chinese imports to this country would more than double. Wang, however, hopes his parole will not end the yearly MFN debate on human rights.
``I still have a lot of friends who are in prison or suffering persecution in China,'' Wang said in a telephone interview from New York. ``If, because I was freed, the agreement is reached [on MFN] and other political prisoners have no opportunity to come out, then I would feel very uneasy.
``I hope very much that the international community will continue to try to make the Chinese government solve its human rights problems, free political prisoners, or at least improve their conditions in jail,'' he said.
Maintaining overseas pressure on Beijing to respect basic rights is especially important as social forces for democracy build inside China, Wang asserts. As the fifth anniversary of the June 4, 1989, Beijing massacre approaches, Wang says China's domestic political situation is ``even more delicate than in 1989.''
``The situation is very unsettled, and something could happen at any time,'' Wang says. ``It is very likely there will be some events'' of public dissent during the anniversary, he says.
Yet Wang pins his hopes for democracy in China not on the revival of protests by political activists, but on powerful, liberalizing forces emerging from China's modernizing society.
``As it modernizes, Chinese society is experiencing a far greater pluralism of interests and political outlooks that cannot find full expression under the present autocratic system,'' he says.
``If we fix our sights only on the democracy movement itself, we might feel hopeless on the anniversary of June 4. But if we put our sights on the growth and decline of the broad forces of Chinese society, on the changes unfolding in people's hearts and wills, and on the pressure that these are placing on the ruling party, then we can see that democratization in China has great hope.''
Before his arrest, Wang was a co-founder with intellectual Chen Ziming of a liberal, unofficial Beijing think-tank that pioneered research on Chinese political, social, and economic reforms. Mr. Chen is still serving a 13-year sentence in China. Wang seeks to return home as soon as possible to continue his research. But China has refused to permit the return of several other Chinese dissident intellectuals from abroad. Moreover, because Wang's 13-year sentence has not been lifted, he could be re-imprisoned in China if authorities charge him with ``further offenses.''