China to 'make an effort' on rights, president says

January 16, 1994|By New York Times News Service

BEIJING -- President Jiang Zemin told a congressional delegation led by the House majority leader yesterday that China "is going to make an effort" in the coming months to meet President Clinton's concerns about the country's human rights record.

Mr. Jiang repeated Beijing's objection to linking human rights with China's trade relationship with the United States, as Mr. Clinton has done by making China's favorable trade status contingent on its human rights record.

But the delegation took the Chinese president's positive tone as an encouraging sign.

The Chinese leader's remarks to the majority leader, Richard A. Gephardt, and five other House members came at a crucial time, just before the release of a State Department human rights report that is critical of China and could affect its trade status as a "most favored nation." His remarks also came in the middle of important talks with Washington on China's textile imports.

Although Mr. Jiang did not present any detailed program for improving China's human rights record, his remarks were significant in that Chinese officials almost never respond directly or positively to any admonition from foreigners about their human rights record. In public statements, Chinese officials uniformly reject U.S. intercessions on human rights as unwarranted interference in China's internal affairs.

In Washington, a State Department official said yesterday that Mr. Jiang's comments, as reported by the Missouri Democrat, were "very, very encouraging."

The delegation members, who said they were in Beijing at Mr. Clinton's request, also met with China's economic czar, Zhu Rongji.

China has until June to demonstrate "overall, significant progress" in human rights. Otherwise, as Mr. Clinton has threatened, Washington would end China's "most-favored nation" access to the U.S. market, which entitles Chinese companies to export their goods to the United States at very low tariffs.

In case the Chinese did not get the message from Mr. Gephardt, the White House will be sending Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen here to reinforce the message one more time.

Also in Beijing this weekend was former President George Bush. In a few remarks made in the presence of news photographers, Mr. Bush gave no indication that he was carrying a message similar to Mr. Clinton's.

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