China Frees Dissident As US Nears Decision On Trade Status

BEIJING is further complicating President Clinton's dilemma over trade and human rights in China.

On Saturday, China said it released Chen Ziming, a veteran dissident who was blamed by the government for instigating the 1989 pro-democracy protests that climaxed in the Tiananmen Square massacre by the military. The release of Mr. Chen for medical reasons follows the freeing in April of his colleague, Wang Juntao, who was allowed to go to the United States for medical treatment. Six religious dissidents linked to banned Protestant congregations were also released last week.

But Chen, who has several health problems, was taken out of Beijing by security officials to an undisclosed location. Human rights activists say that Chen, like some other key activists, will be kept away from the Chinese capital until after the fifth anniversary of the 1989 uprising and crackdown.

But, in the run-up to Mr. Clinton's decision on whether to block low-tariff trade status for China because of its human rights abuses, freeing some prominent political prisoners is overshadowed by reports of new arrests and detentions and the decision to broaden the power of the police against activists.

Clinton, who has demanded significant improvements in human rights as a condition for extending China's most-favored-nation (MFN) trading status, has three weeks to find a way to maintain the US business stake in China's booming economy and his own credibility in foreign policy toward China. ``Other than the customary release of dissidents before the decision, it's hard to see how the United States can cite a lot of significant progress,'' a Western diplomat says.

``The US cannot ignore the fact that China has one-fifth of the world's population and has its own nuclear power, that China is a member of the UN Security Council, and is an important element for stability in the Asia-Pacific region,'' Zhou Shijian, a trade spokesman said in the official Business Weekly yesterday.

Indeed, contradicting Western and Chinese analysts' previous expectations that China might ease its detention powers against political activists as a compromise with the US, Beijing announced last Friday that it would stiffen its public order law and expand police powers to arrest and check dissidents.

Authorities have added 18 new offenses, including disturbing public order, managing people's health through religious activities, distorting facts, and creating conflicts among minority groups, thus allowing virtually anyone to be detained.

Last week, President Jiang Zemin justified the brutal action against the 1989 unrest, saying in a report quoted by the official media, ``A bad thing has been turned into a good thing.

``As a result, our reform and open program has forged ahead with steadier, better, and even quicker steps, and our advantages have been brought into fuller play,'' the Chinese official said.

In the last week in Shanghai, authorities have arrested six activists, most linked to the Shanghai Human Rights League. The outspoken organization had planned to launch meetings and a protest for the fifth anniversary of the June 4, 1989 crackdown.

Arrested last week were Zhou Qibing, a businessman, and Yang Zhou, spokesman for the organization in Shanghai.

Family members of ailing dissident Bao Tong said he was hospitalized in prison last week. Mr. Bao, the most senior Chinese official arrested in 1989 and a former top aide to ousted Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang, is serving a seven-year prison sentence imposed in 1992. Western observers had predicted that Bao could be released this month as another step to placate US human rights criticisms.

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