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China: Clinton To Take Up Human Rights Issue

Washington, 25 June 1998 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton says he will take up the issue of human rights during his visit to China that gets under way today.

Clinton said Wednesday in an interview with Radio Free Asia (RFA) that human rights and political freedoms are part of the agenda he expects to raise with the Chinese leadership.

He said: "I hope, whether it's obvious or not at the end of the trip, that we will advance the human rights dialogue."

The American president said other goals of his trip include curbing the proliferation of nuclear weapons, securing China's help in stabilizing the economic situation in Asia, and boosting scientific cooperation with Beijing.

In the broadcast interview, a copy of which was made available by the radio to RFE/RL, Clinton criticized as "a big mistake" China's decision to bar three RFA reporters from covering his nine-day visit.

But Clinton added: "Keep in mind, that's not the same thing as negotiating over nonproliferation or economic issues or anything else because every nation reserves to itself the complete and unilateral right to decide its visa policies."

The president spoke to the U.S. government-funded broadcasting service shortly before his flight left Washington for China.

Radio Free Asia broadcasts news and information to China and other non-democratic Asian nations. China strongly objects to RFA and jams the station.

Clinton said he intends to bring up the jamming issue with the Chinese. The three reporters were notified this week by the Chinese Embassy in Washington that they would not be allowed to cover Clinton's visit.

The reason, said RFA spokeswoman Pat Lute, "was because we're RFA."

Observers say Clinton's decision to give an exclusive interview to RFA amounted to a criticism of Chinese authorities.

Clinton said no nation can successfully fight ideas.

He said: "It is a losing battle to try to keep ideas away that are contrary to official dogma."

The president was noncommittal when asked whether he plans to talk to any dissidents during his visit, saying only that he will meet "with as many different people" as he can.

Clinton has been drawing congressional criticism for his planned welcoming ceremony in Tiananmen Square, where nine years ago tanks crushed a pro-democracy protest.

He said it is important to distinguish between centuries of history that has occurred on that spot and the crackdown.

Clinton also said he hopes to persuade Chinese rulers to resume talks with the Dalai Lama, the exiled leader of Tibet, on "autonomy with integrity" for the Himalayan region. China annexed the remote area in the 1950s.

Clinton's first stop in China today is the ancient capital of Xian. He travels on from their to Beijing for the formal welcoming ceremony with Chinese president Jiang Zemin on Friday.