Christopher says he has no plans to meet dissidents during visit to China

March 11, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

TOKYO -- U.S. Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher said yesterday that he has no plans to meet with any political dissidents when he visits Beijing this weekend, and one of his top aides hinted that Chinese officials may have asked the secretary not to do so.

A week ago, the Chinese government rounded up several prominent dissidents, including Wei Jingsheng, the country's best-known advocate of democracy. Mr. Wei was subsequently freed. There had been speculation that he or some other Chinese dissidents would meet with Mr. Christopher during the secretary's trip to Beijing.

By scuttling such a meeting, China would keep the dissidents out of the spotlight and deprive them of a platform from which to disseminate their views.

The main purpose of Mr. Christopher's trip is to talk about human rights and to see if China is making enough progress to qualify for an extension of the country's most-favored-nation (MFN) trade benefits when they expire this summer.

Asked at a news conference in Tokyo if he would see any advocates of democracy during his Beijing trip, Mr. Christopher carefully replied, "I don't have any plans to do so at the present time."

Such a session would be a groundbreaking event for any top U.S. official in Beijing.

President George Bush invited Fang Lizhi, a Chinese dissident, to a Beijing banquet five years ago, but security police blocked Mr. Fang from attending. Mr. Christopher's predecessor, James A. Baker III, backed off from meeting any dissidents on a Beijing stop in 1991, after Chinese officials visited the home of Dai Qing, a dissident whom Mr. Baker had considered meeting.

State Department spokesman Michael McCurry suggested that one Clinton administration motive may be to avoid putting dissidents in jeopardy. He pointed to the example of Mr. Wei, who met in Beijing last week with John H. F. Shattuck, assistant secretary of state for human rights, and was detained soon after.

But Mr. McCurry also acknowledged that there had been some recent diplomatic conversations between U.S. and Chinese officials, which he suggested involved the question of whether Mr. Christopher would meet with any dissidents.

The situation is delicate for Mr. Christopher and his entourage because they do not want to give the U.S. public the impression that China is dictating the terms of Mr. Christopher's itinerary.

"The schedule is our own to make," said one U.S. official. "We have no intention of following anyone else's instructions or requests."

Another reason authorities in Beijing may want to prevent Mr. Christopher from meeting with Mr. Wei is that the dissident has publicly urged the United States to keep on using trade as a tool for extracting human rights concessions from China.

Using trade in this fashion "may not be the best method, but it's what the United States chose," Mr. Wei said early this year. "If you retreat, you lose."

President Clinton signed an executive order last year requiring Mr. Christopher to see whether China was making "overall significant progress" on human rights before a recommendation is made whether the United States should extend China's MFN trade benefits.

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