China's low marks in U.S. human rights report put trade status in jeopardy

January 12, 1994|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- The draft of a report by the State Department on human rights has concluded that China has not made significant progress in curbing widespread abuses last year, which President Clinton has said is necessary for China to win extension of preferential trade benefits next summer, according to senior administration officials.

The officials said yesterday the report's findings underscore the repeated warnings by Mr. Clinton and Secretary of State Warren Christopher that unless the Chinese move forward urgently on human rights, they will lose the right to export their goods to the United States under the same low tariffs enjoyed by most other countries.

By one analysis the loss of most favored nation status would raise the average customs duty on goods imported from China to 40 percent from 8 percent.

[The American decision to cut China's textile quota could cost 300,000 Chinese their jobs, an industry council said today.

[Some producers could be driven into bankruptcy, the official China Daily quoted the National Textile Council as saying today.]

The annual report, which is undergoing final review before it is sent to Congress in three weeks, says that although China must be credited with improvements in some areas in 1993, there were also serious setbacks in its performance, including arbitrary arrests and torture and ill-treatment of political and religious dissidents. It also states that the Beijing government continues to use repression to maintain control of its population.

The disclosures about the human rights report come in the face of an emerging policy struggle within the Clinton administration over the wisdom of making the renewal of China's beneficial trade status totally dependent on its performance on human rights.

In an interview last month, the American ambassador to China, Stapleton Roy, said that Beijing had made "dramatic" progress in improving the lives of its citizens and that this record should be taken into account. But senior State Department officials insisted that Mr. Roy was not reflecting official policy, which does not permit such flexibility.

While the draft human rights report is overwhelmingly negative, it does praise China for what one senior official described as "our intensive human rights dialogue with China" and signs of "positive developments" in the areas of concern, including the release of some prominent political prisoners and China's announcement that it is willing to consider allowing the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit political prisoners.

During the 1992 campaign, Mr. Clinton criticized President George Bush for "coddling" the Chinese government in the wake of its bloody repression of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations for democracy in 1989, and his policy has been somewhat tougher than that of the Bush administration, which resisted all attempts to attach conditions to the renewal of China's trade benefits.

But the economic pressures for maximizing trade with China, the fastest growing economy in the world, are enormous. A number of the administration's top economic advisers, led by Robert E. Rubin, chairman of the National Economic Council and W. Bowman Cutter, deputy assistant to the president for Economic Policy, have argued that punishing the Chinese hurts America more than it hurts China.

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