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China: Clinton Urges Respect For Human Rights

  • Frank Csongos

U.S. President Bill Clinton held an hour-long news conference on Wednesday. The topics ranged from oil prices to relations with China. Clinton said China seems to have a virtual phobia with internal disintegration, and that's why its communist leaders are trying to crack down on political activists. The U.S. president said this is a wrong approach. RFE/RL's Senior Correspondent Frank T. Csongos reports from Washington.

Washington, 30 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton says he strongly disagrees with the Chinese leadership that in order to preserve stability in the world's most populous nation, political and religious activists must be curtailed, even repressed.

Clinton told a White House news conference on Wednesday that there have been several human rights violations in China during the past two years that deeply disappointed him.

The president said China has a preoccupation -- he called it "almost a phobia" -- of internal disintegration. Clinton said that's because of China's historical experiences in the last 100 years, problems U.S. society has never faced. He was referring to the colonial powers' attempts to carve out sphere of economic interests in China.

Still, Clinton said, democratic rights should be respected.

"I generally strongly disagree with the Chinese view that to preserve stability in their society they have to repress political and sometimes religious activists to the extent that they do. I think that's wrong."

Clinton said he realizes that to some extent Chinese cultural views are not as oriented toward individual rights and liberties as the American views. But Clinton said the UN Declaration of Human Rights is a universal document that should be observed by every nation. The declaration adopted after World War II spells out basic human rights.

During his hour-long news conference, Clinton urged the U.S. Congress to approve permanent normal trade relations with China.

Under an agreement signed last November, China agreed to lower tariffs for U.S. goods and to open up its market to a greater extent. In exchange, the U.S. agreed to back China's bid to join the World Trade Organization (WTO). China, however, made it clear that the concessions it offered were dependent on congressional approval of normal trade ties on a permanent basis.

"We need to give our businesses, farmers, and workers access to the world's largest consumer market in China. There is no more important long-term international economic or national security issue facing us today. Congress should pass Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China this spring."

James Dorn, professor of economics at Towson State University in the eastern U.S. state of Maryland, told our economics correspondent in Washington recently he believes it will be difficult for Clinton to persuade the Republican-controlled Congress to act favorably during this election year on the China measure. Dorn said: "I'm in favor of China's accession [to the WTO], but I think the thing's going to become a political football the longer they wait."

U.S. opponents to the permanent trade ties have cited China's poor record on human rights and the fear that trade with China would drain manufacturing jobs from Americans. Most recently, they point to China's threats of military action against Taiwan.

Clinton also addressed the Taiwan issue. China considers the island a renegade province and has threatened military action should it declare independence.

"The Chinese have been quite clear that they were willing to be patient and to negotiate an arrangement which might even be different from that in Hong Kong. And I think that Taiwan's got a lot going for it, and I don't think either one of them need this crisis right now."

Clinton said he hopes there will be a lessening of tensions between China and Taiwan. He said the U.S. only recognizes China as a sovereign country. But he said part of the one-China policy is that the differences between China and Taiwan be worked out peacefully.