The imprisonment of Harry Wu, the Chinese human rights crusader with U.S. citizenship, is no reason for Hillary Rodham Clinton to boycott the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing Sept. 4. The conference is about women, not China. Going there would be doing no favor to Chinese Communist rulers. They have figured that out and are trying to keep people away.
The Chinese government has hobbled the U.N. conference by throwing obstacles at the related Non-Government Organizations Forum starting Aug. 30. By banishing the NGO forum to Huairou and delaying visas and reservations to foment maximum confusion, Beijing is muzzling NGO reps and denying them access to the conference.
If Mrs. Clinton and her White House strategists need a rationale for her to stay away, that is it. The U.S. would still send a delegation, headed by the capable Ambassador Madeleine Albright and graced by cabinet secretaries, but it would be lacking a certain celebrity.
There is no way the U.S. can boycott a U.N. conference at which it wishes to make points, as a great power must. The U.N. should have changed venue in response to China's obfuscation over facilities. But the U.N. is not good at quick decisions. At this date there is no way to stop.
Norway's Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland has no qualms. She is going -- because of China's deplorable human rights record and not despite it. "We owe it to ourselves, to the 500 million girls and women of the host country," she said.
Small countries have advantages. Norway is not trying to restrain China's nuclear weapons development or talk it out of missile and nuclear technology sales to Pakistan and Iran or keep the peace in the South China Sea. Prime Minister Brundtland can offend President Jiang Zemin all she wants. Mrs. Clinton lacks that luxury.
In case delegates are stuck for something to say, the Human Rights in China organization of New York has thoughtfully provided talking points. Its new report, "Caught between Tradition and the State," charges that hundreds of millions of Chinese women live in "an epidemic of violence"; that hundreds TTC of thousands have been kidnapped to be sold into prostitution or marriage or to be murdered; that the one-child-per-family rule has coerced many into unwanted abortions, sterilizations and abandonments. Legitimate issues.
China, in 1990, wanted this conference. It didn't know what it would be getting. Now it is sorry, and next month will be sorrier. Mrs. Clinton can be forgiven for wanting to go. If she does, it must be as a delegate on issues concerning women and not as a high-level emissary to China. Sino-American relations are another subject entirely, requiring the full concentration of whoever attends to them.