China's premier adopts conciliatory tone to U.S.

March 23, 1994|By Robert Benjamin | Robert Benjamin,Beijing Bureau of The Sun

BEIJING -- Chinese Premier Li Peng went out of his way yesterday to strike a conciliatory tone toward the United States -- in direct contrast to his tough talk during U.S. Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher's recent human-rights mission here.

But he made no overtures to resolve U.S. concerns about China's human rights abuses, continuing to maintain that China can't sacrifice "its principles" to heal the standoff over the renewal of China's favorable trade status with the United States.

"We have made great efforts to improve relations and will continue to do so," he said. "Generally speaking, I do not feel pessimistic about the prospects of Sino-U.S. relations."

Mr. Li also stressed that Chinese leaders regard a statement by President Clinton last Wednesday "as a positive sign." Mr. Clinton reportedly said he was confident that the United States would be "able to work through" its differences with China on human rights.

The premier's comments came at a news conference marking the end of the annual meeting of China's weak legislature yesterday.

He said his relatively upbeat remarks about the United States were in answer to a question submitted ahead of time, a sure sign Chinese leaders wanted to make sure their message got out.

Despite Mr. Li's conciliatory tone toward the United States, he gave no indication China would take steps to show progress on human rights by the June 3 deadline for the Clinton administration to decide on whether to renew China's favorable trade status with the United States. The two issues were linked by a presidential order last year.

Instead, he continued to stress the hard line that China is "a sovereign nation, so surely it will not bend its principles," a line against U.S. pressure that is repeated in the government-run news media here.

He also indicated that resolving the standoff over human rights may rest with the United States backing down, saying that Mr. Christopher's trip "may perhaps help the United States, through careful consideration, to make decisions in the next few months that will be in keeping" with both U.S. and Chinese interests.

China concluded its national legislative meeting by endorsing this year's slogan: "Seizing development opportunities, deepening reform, expanding opening to the outside world, promoting development and maintaining stability."

The accent, however, was more on "stability" than "reform," with Mr. Li announcing price controls on key commodities and other national moves to fend off runaway inflation, the regime's worst nightmare.

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