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Saturday, 28 July, 2001, 07:05 GMT 08:05 UK
Powell keeps pressure on China
Powell on magazine cover on eve of visit
Powell faces challenges over the human rights issue
United States Secretary of State Colin Powell has begun a one-day visit to Beijing, during which he is expected to press China on human rights issues and raise concerns about missile proliferation.

Mr Powell is the most senior member of the present Bush administration to visit China.

Our relations with China represent some serious opportunities, particularly on the trade front. They also represent particular challenges involving human rights

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said before the visit that the US firmly opposed all Chinese transfers of technology relating to missiles and weapons of mass-destruction to other countries.

And he acknowledged difficulties over human rights.

"Our relations with China represent some serious opportunities, particularly on the trade front. (They) also represent particular challenges involving human rights," he said.

The Bush administration has said pressure will be maintained on China to improve its human rights record.

This is despite the release earlier in the week of three scholars with US connections who were convicted of spying.

Gao Zhan and Qin Guangguang were freed on medical grounds hours after being given 10-year prison sentences, while Li Shaomin, a US citizen, was deported.

Their cases had threatened to overshadow Mr Powell's visit.

'Concrete improvements

Human rights groups urged Mr Powell to take a firmer stand.

The scale of China's human rights problem cannot be hidden

Amnesty International
"The Bush administration must seek concrete improvements," an Amnesty International USA statement said.

"The scale of China's human rights problem cannot be hidden."

Chinese dissident Ren Wanding told The Associated Press news agency that mere concern did not help the situation and human rights violations in China were "just as bad".

And the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy published an open letter by 35 Chinese activists calling for Mr Powell to seek medical parole for dissident Xu Wenli.

Xu's health has deteriorated since he was given a 13-year prison sentence three years ago for setting up an opposition party.

Korean initiative

Mr Powell arrived from South Korea where he said the US was keen to resume its stalled dialogue with North Korea. He said the US was prepared to hold talks with North Korea "any time and any place" and have an open agenda.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il
The US is keen to resume dialogue with North Korea
And he said the US supported South Korea's "sunshine policy" on improving relations with the North.

Correspondents say there are fears in South Korea that the Bush administration's harder line towards North Korea could jeopardise the policy.

Last month, US President George W Bush ordered his national security team to resume talks with North Korea that were begun under President Bill Clinton.

Earlier in the year he had angered North Korea by ordering a review of policy towards Pyongyang. It led to North Korea cutting all official contacts with South Korea and stalling a reconciliation process that began last year with a historic summit.

The BBC's Bill Hayton
"If the issues can be resolved it will pave the way for a successful visit by President Bush in the autumn"
The BBC's Jon Leyne, in Beijing
"There are a number of differences on major areas"
See also:

27 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
'Bittersweet' return for China-US scholar
08 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Seoul's fears over Bush
08 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Bush rules out North Korea talks
27 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Powell's China mission
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