London, 23 June 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The human rights organization, Amnesty International, yesterday urged President Bill Clinton to follow an example originally set by former President Ronald Reagan in Russia by meeting a leading dissident during his state visit to China.
Clinton begins a nine-day state visit to China on Thursday. His handling of rights issues is expected to be the most controversial aspect of the visit, the first by a U.S. president since the June, 1989, Tiananmen killing of pro-democracy demonstrators.
Amnesty urged Clinton to meet with relatives of the victims of the 1989 killings and with human rights defender Xu Wenli -- as requested by a group of 55 Chinese dissidents on Friday. Xu, a veteran rights activist was released in 1993 after 12 years in jail.
The Amnesty statement says Reagan specifically requested a meeting with Soviet dissidents at the U.S. embassy during his "historic" visit to Moscow. It says: "Clinton should show leadership in the human rights field by requesting a similar meeting."
But a U.S. official (Stanley Roth, assistant secretary of state) was quoted yesterday as saying: "At this point, I don't think we're going to have dissidents on the schedule." He said the main concern was "what would happen to (dissident) people if you met with them."
The Amnesty statement also called on Clinton to request an amnesty for all those "prisoners of conscience" detained for their part in the 1989 protests, and a review of those jailed for "counter-revolutionary offenses" which no longer exist under Chinese law. It said Clinton should also call for the release of those jailed for peacefully seeking more religious freedom in Xinjiang and Tibet.
It said Clinton's summit in China could make a real difference to human rights there, provided "he refuses complicity in 'hostage politics' and use of high profile dissidents as bargaining chips."
The statement said: "By asking for an amnesty and by raising the cases of the 'forgotten prisoners' he can send a clear signal that China must clear up its act if it wants to play on the world stage."
The Amnesty statement says the Chinese government is continuing to detain and intimidate dissidents in the run-up to the Clinton visit. Together with the statement, the London-based human rights group issued a list of 50 dissidents who it says have been harassed by the authorities since the beginning of this year.
The statement calls on the U.S., and other governments engaged in dialogue with China, to urge the authorities to release detainees, and to stop intimidating dissidents in the run-up to the summit.
"Despite all the talk of a 'Beijing Spring' -- with the release of high profile dissidents and long-mooted promises that it will sign up to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights -- the Chinese government is continuing to crack down on opposition voices."
The statement says the releases of Wei Jingsheng and Wang Dan, although welcome, do not mean the end of repression in China. It says the international community must not forget lesser-known dissidents, rights defenders, workers' activists and their friends and relatives who are still targeted by the government, and must ensure that the authorities actually implement the human rights safeguards they profess to respect."