China tightens crackdown as Christopher arrives

March 12, 1994|By Robert Benjamin | Robert Benjamin,Beijing Bureau of The Sun

BEIJING -- Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher arrived here last night amid unusually heavy security, a continuing crackdown on dissent and doubts he will gain meaningful concessions from China on its human rights abuses.

Two more Chinese dissidents were reportedly detained yesterday in Shanghai. Several other prominent activists, apparently under pressure from authorities, said they were leaving Beijing for a while.

And China's best-known dissident, Wei Jingsheng, who left Beijing earlier this week, indicated yesterday that he would not return while Mr. Christopher was in town -- likely ruling out a meeting of the two.

Mr. Wei's meeting last week with Assistant U.S. Secretary of State John Shattuck, here to prepare for Mr. Christopher's trip, deeply embarrassed the Chinese leadership, and may have led to the weeklong crackdown.

In an unusual display of security, several dozen Chinese police and plainclothes agents cordoned off about four square blocks around an American embassy building in Beijing's main diplomatic district last night, while Mr. Christopher held a meeting there.

The police roadblocks appear to be aimed at discouraging any contact between Mr. Christopher and dissidents, even though officials traveling with the U.S. envoy reiterated yesterday that he no longer has plans to meet human rights activists here.

The show of security, the exodus of dissidents and the new detentions -- among more than a dozen detentions in Beijing and in Shanghai over the last week -- will aggravate what already were to be tense talks this weekend.

Mr. Christopher is seeking sufficient progress on human rights for the Clinton administration to justify renewing China's most-favored-nation trade status. The two issues -- trade and human rights -- were formally linked by a presidential order last year that set specific conditions for renewing the lucrative trade standing.

At stake is $32 billion worth of exports to the United States, exports critical to maintaining the current economic boom in China and hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs producing high-tech exports.

"What we seek is no more than the recognition of the most basic, universally recognized human rights," Mr. Christopher said in Tokyo before flying here.

He got backing yesterday from 275 members of the U.S. Congress who signed a letter urging him to express their concern about China's lack of progress on human rights.

But China has responded almost defiantly so far, insisting that it won't be pressured by the United States on its internal matters.

Mr. Christopher is to meet today with Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen, President Jiang Zemin and Premier Li Peng.

But, in a show of displeasure with his hosts, a scheduled banquet with Mr. Qian is now being billed by U.S. officials as a "working lunch" and a Sunday sight-seeing trip has been scrapped.

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