ARRESTS of prominent Chinese dissidents have left the United States in a fix over future trade with China.
Wei Jingsheng, China's most famous dissident, was detained March 4 for a day and then released. He has since mysteriously left Beijing for an undisclosed location just ahead of US Secretary of State Warren Christopher's scheduled visit.
Mr. Wei was among eight political activists detained in a March 4-5 security sweep in Beijing and Shanghai. The official New China News Agency said Wei was arrested for violating parole.
The arrests have further deepened the crisis facing the US in its relations with China. Last June, President Clinton extended unrestricted trading status for China on the condition that Beijing improve its human rights record.
``You can be sure human rights will be right on the top of my agenda,'' Mr. Christopher said after hearing about the detentions. ``It just redoubles my determination that they understand the seriousness of our concern about that.''
John Shattuck, a senior human rights official at the State Department, told Chinese officials last week that the Clinton administration will end China's trading privileges if it does not make progress on human rights. Mr. Shattuck met with Wei privately on March 4 before the dissident was detained.
SHATTUCK'S meetings with Chinese officials were aimed at laying the groundwork for the four-day Christopher visit that starts March 11. But the crackdown is an embarrassing affront to the United States, which had signaled a more open dialogue with China during the Shattuck visit, Western diplomats say.
The arrests also send confusing signals about China's intent. Late last week, the State Council Information Office, an agency charged with improving the image of the Chinese government, took five American journalists to visit dissident Liu Gang, a leader of the 1989 student Tiananmen Square protests, in a remote prison camp.
Human rights groups and Mr. Liu's family members have charged that the activist has been beaten and exposed to physical and psychological torture. According to a journalist who made the rare visit, prison officials denied Liu has been treated harshly. The correspondents could not verify that themselves.
The arrests are among the security measures Chinese officials routinely take before the start of the National People's Congress, China's nominal parliament whose annual session starts next week.
Arrested yesterday at his home was Zhai Weimin, a student leader during the 1989 democracy movement who was released last year. Detained earlier were Wang Dan, a 1989 student leader who was released last year after four years in prison; Zhou Guoqiang, a lawyer who recently supported a charter calling for nonviolent political reform; and Yuan Hongbing, a professor who staged a sit-in last November for academic freedom. Wang Jiaqi, a graduate student who started a petition drive on behalf of an artist beaten by police; and Qian Yuming, a labor activist, were also detained. In Shanghai, Bao Ge, a medical researcher who went on a hunger strike last year to urge the release of another dissident, was detained briefly.
Tong Yi, a spokeswoman for Mr. Wei, told journalists yesterday that Wei was ``very tired and his eyes were red'' after his detention and interrogation, and he had decided to leave Beijing for a ``rest.'' ``He has trouble with his heart and wants to go ... and visit friends,'' said Ms. Tong, adding that his departure was ``his own decision.'' Wei had told journalists earlier last week, however, that his health was fine. ``I do not know where he is,'' Tong said.