China Rebuffs US for Hard Line on Talks

US Commerce Dept. and businessmen worry focus on rights could cost jobs

SECRETARY of State Warren Christopher ends a stormy four-day visit to Beijing today with the future of Chinese and United States trade links in doubt.

Mr. Christopher yesterday tried to strike a gritty tone after two days of battering by an angry Chinese leadership and American businessmen worried over US threats to end China's most-favored-nation (MFN) trading privileges because of rights abuses.

At a press briefing, Mr. Christopher insisted that ``the issue still remains whether there will be overall significant progress'' on human rights by June. At that time, the Clinton administration must decide if China has improved its rights record enough to warrant the extension of MFN. ``I've emphasized to them ... that time is growing short as we move into the critical two-month period before I have to make my recommendation,'' Christopher said.

The visit, first planned to cap a series of high-level US visits in recent months, has become a diplomatic embarrassment, taking place in what one European diplomat called ``almost a surreal'' atmosphere.

Christopher has been greeted by Chinese defiance and rebuke, a sweeping roundup of Chinese dissidents, and a stiff lecture from US businessmen fearful of losing access to China.

During the first of Christopher's meetings with high-level Chinese officials, Foreign Minister Qian Qichen accused John Shattuck, a senior US emissary who made an advance trip to Beijing two weeks ago, of breaking Chinese law by meeting dissident Wei Jingsheng. Winston Lord, who is traveling with Christopher, called the charges ``really Alice in Wonderland.''

``There are some people in the West who ... only show concern about a small number of people who attempt to subvert the Chinese government and attempt to undermine the stability of China,'' President Jiang Zemin was reported to have told Christopher.

In another stunning rebuke yesterday, the US Chamber of Commerce warned Christopher that withdrawing China's MFN status risked more than 167,000 jobs in US technology industries and undermined US competitiveness for the fast-growing Chinese market. Beijing has threatened to punish US firms if Washington withdraws MFN status for the more than $30 billion in Chinese exports to the US.

``To gain and retain the support of the American people, our foreign policy must be based on the core values in which Americans believe,'' Christopher told the businessmen.

Beijing's insistence that it can deal with losing the trading privileges masks official concerns that the gov- ernment cannot risk losing control of growing political dissent.

In an analysis about the recent spate of activist arrests, the US-based Human Rights Watch concluded the crackdown ``appears to be driven more by domestic developments and fear of a resurgent pro-democracy movement.'' In documents released by the Beijing dissident community in the last week, activists called for greater worker protections, the right to strike, and legalization of independent labor unions.

Worried that dissidents would attempt to meet Christopher, Chinese authorities cordoned off the homes of many Beijing activists and four foreign journalists were detained for several hours over the weekend.

``I was worried that the detentions are an infringement of their human rights and would hurt China's image,'' said novelist Zhang Kangkang, an intellectual who publicly appealed to the government to end the detentions. ``There are two policemen outside. We are under virtual house arrest,'' said Xu Liangying, a detained scientist, in a telephone interview. He said family members were not allowed to visit him or his wife.

Although China has publicly reversed previous pledges to the US to improve human rights concerns, Chinese analysts caution that Beijing could make some gestures in the months ahead. They say the Christopher trip coincided poorly with the annual meeting of China's nominal parliament, when Communist officials flock to Beijing.

While central leaders jockey for political position in anticipation of the death of ailing leader Deng Xiaoping, they also face divisions over curbing soaring inflation and provincial restiveness.

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