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Sunday, February 28, 1999 Published at 17:38 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Analysis: US and China divided

The visit of Jiang Zemin to the US appeared to herald a new era

By Richard Lister in Washington

The American Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, has arrived in Beijing amid increasing disagreements between the two countries.

In the week leading up to her visit, Washington criticised Beijing's human rights policies and warned that China was posing a more serious military threat to Taiwan.

The fanfare that greeted the Chinese President, Jiang Zemin, when he came to the United States 18 months ago was supposed to herald a new era of strategic partnership between the two countries.

Beijing appeared to loosen some of the restrictions on its people and President Clinton felt his policy of engagement had borne fruit. But this year's State Department report on human rights in China suggests a different trend.

It said the government's human rights record deteriorated sharply at the end of 1998 with a crackdown against organised political dissent.

The Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights, Harold Koh, said: "Dozens of political activists were detained for attempts to register a political party.

'Hoodwinked by President Jiang'

"Three prominent leaders were given harsh sentences in closed trials that flagrantly violated due process. In addition, authorities banned a popular but politically sensitive book series and other publications and promulgated new restrictive regulations on social organisations."

There is now a growing feeling in the US Congress that President Clinton was hoodwinked by President Jiang.

Republican Senator Connie Mack sums up that impression. "It appears now in retrospect that the only thing that President Jiang was interested in was two summit meetings with the President of the United States to enhance his power, enhance his authority, to build him up in China, and once that's been done we've seen a deterioration in human rights in China."

The US Senate has urged the Clinton administration to sponsor a resolution criticising China's human rights record at the forthcoming human rights meeting in Geneva.

[ image: Harry Wu:
Harry Wu: "We want to see a Democracy China"
Washington declined to do so last year, citing progress made by Beijing. It says no decision has yet been made on what it will do this year.

But exiled Chinese dissident Harry Wu says the United States should go further and re-establish a linkage between human rights and trade.

"They have to link the human rights with economic for the realities in this policy," he said. "We have to make clear to the Chinese Government we want to see a Democracy China not Communist China.

"If you want to enjoy the benefit from trade, from investment, you have to improve your political system."

The administration has begun to tighten its defences against Beijing. Washington blocked a recent satellite deal between the Chinese and an American company for national security reasons.

It is also pursuing a missile defence system from which Taiwan might benefit. Both moves have infuriated China but the Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, says the relationship has improved in other areas.

"I believe that our relationship with China is an important one in terms of limiting their proliferation of weapons of mass destruction," she said.

"They have moved in a good direction and they have been helpful in terms of one of the biggest problems that we face that I spoke about earlier, and that has to do with North Korea. It is not a perfect relationship. I have said that. So has the president."

'A phoney exercise'

In fact there are a number of serious rifts developing with the Chinese, from human rights to the conflict over Taiwan.

James Lilley, a former American ambassador to China, says the problem is that Washington has simply failed to use its influence with Beijing, despite the presidential summits.

"It was a phoney exercise," he says "because they didn't deal with any of the real issues.

"Now these issues have come home to haunt them because they've been looking in the other direction. We've had domestic distractions to say the least and the Chinese have begun to move ahead in a period of, let's say, a vacuum of leadership on our side.

The Chinese Prime Minister, Zhu Rongji, arrives in Washington in April on a visit which both sides hope will put the relationship back on course.

But for the moment the strategic partnership appears more like a long-running feud.

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