A "first of its kind" human-rights delegation is currently investigating conditions in China. The group of Australian politicians, diplomats, and scholars arrived in Beijing on July 14 for a 12-day visit.The eight-person team will be traveling to Chengdu, Shanghai, and Lhasa in Tibet, where the Chinese government has suppressed demonstrations for independence. Disagreements over access to prisons and political prisoners threatened to derail the Australian trip as recently as a week before departure. But after the Chinese government guaranteed access to at least two prisons, the Australians decided to go ahead as planned. It is uncertain whether they will be allowed to meet with imprisoned dissidents. The visit is not expected to improve the human-rights situation in China but rather to open discussion about the issue with Chinese officials. "Nations have to interact and in the past the Chinese would try to just sweep [the issue of human rights] under the table," says Jerome Cohen, a law professor at New York University. "Each society can stand to benefit from the healthy criticism of outsiders." "To some degree, I think it's an indication that international pressure works," says Sidney Jones, executive director of Asia Watch, a watchdog organization in New York. "If there hadn't been as much pressure especially over most-favored-nation status I don't think these visits would be allowed." The Beijing government may be attempting to gain international favor by appearing to provide access and information while actually revealing very little, Ms. Jones says. But if they think such a limited demonstration of concern would "get the human-rights community off their back," she says, "they may have a rude awakening." China has invited France and Switzerland to send investigative teams later this year.

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