U.S. Has Slap, Embrace for China: Report on Rights Won't Stop Visit

By Sieff, Martin | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 31, 1997 | Go to article overview

U.S. Has Slap, Embrace for China: Report on Rights Won't Stop Visit


Sieff, Martin, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


The State Department showed China two faces yesterday, reaching out with the promise of a visit next month by Secretary Madeleine K. Albright while sharply slapping Beijing in its annual report on human rights.

China was singled out as one of the worst offenders in the report, which dealt with human rights observances by all of the world's 194 countries.

But Mrs. Albright, who will make Beijing a key stop on her first round-the-world tour as secretary, defended a policy of engagement with the world's rising superpower.

In releasing the report, Mrs. Albright told reporters the U.S. relationship with China was too important to be held hostage to human rights or any other single issue.

Even so, the department's harsh language on China's human rights record seems likely to lead to a new clash between Washington and Beijing.

The report warned that China last year was already undertaking "restrictive measures" that threatened "Hong Kong's civil liberties and political institutions . . . in anticipation of Hong Kong's reversion to Chinese sovereignty in July of 1997."

Hong Kong Gov. Christopher Patten also slammed Beijing yesterday, describing as "repugnant" its proposal to reverse most of the civil liberties reforms introduced since his arrival in the British colony in 1992. He said China's proposed amendments would seriously damage Hong Kong.

President Clinton also raised the issue at his Tuesday news conference, saying Hong Kong would be less useful to China if personal freedoms were suppressed.

The human rights report was scathing in its indictment of China's general human rights record.

"The Chinese government in 1996 continued to commit widespread and well-documented human rights abuses in violation of internationally accepted norms, stemming from the authorities' intolerance of dissent, fear of unrest and the continuing absence of laws protecting basic freedoms," it said.

"All public dissent against party and government was effectively silenced by intimidation, exile or the imposition of prison terms, administrative detention or house arrest. No dissidents were known to be active at the year's end."

John Shattuck, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, defended the policy of maintaining high-level ties with China. "Never has the human rights situation improved as a result of isolating China," he told reporters.

But the Clinton administration has vowed to push hard on human rights issues and is under heavy pressure from both sides of Congress to do so.

The report's uncompromising conclusions would likely force Washington to sponsor a resolution at the Human Rights Commission in Geneva criticizing China's record.

U.S. officials say the administration will go ahead with that action but the resolution is almost certain to be rejected. Even so, East Asian diplomatic sources said, the move will infuriate Beijing.

The State Department report also accused Nigeria, Cuba and Burma of stepping up the use of widespread repression.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority both were criticized for the use of torture. Russia received at best a mixed review, while U.S. allies Indonesia, Egypt and Turkey also were criticized for the use of torture. Germany received oblique criticism for discrimination against Scientologists.

Iran, Syria, Libya, Iraq and North Korea were cited as fiercely repressive regimes. But that has become virtually routine in the report, now in its 20th year.

The report was sharply critical of Gen. Sani Abacha's military government in Nigeria.

"Security forces committed extrajudicial killings, tortured and beat suspects and detainees; prison conditions remained life-threatening; and security officials continued routinely to harass human rights and democracy activists, labor leaders, environmentalists and journalists," it said.

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U.S. Has Slap, Embrace for China: Report on Rights Won't Stop Visit
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