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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

China Ready to Resume Talks on Human Rights

BEIJING -- In a surprise announcement, the Chinese government on Tuesday told U.S. Commerce Secretary Ron Brown that it was ready to resume discussions with the United States on human rights.

The Chinese decision was clearly intended to reward Brown for pushing President Bill Clinton to sever the link between bilateral trade and China's human rights practices -- and for his high-profile visit to China, which both sides say marks a new era in Sino-U.S. business ties.

Brown is the first Cabinet member to visit China since Clinton decided in May not to make the annual renewal of China's most-favored nation trade status contingent on improvements in its human rights practices.

Brown said Foreign Minister Qian Qichen would be going to the United States at the end of September for the talks on human rights, but said he had no other details.

China and the United States have been holding informal bilateral discussions on human rights since 1990. But that dialogue was suspended after Beijing reacted with fury to a meeting between U.S. Assistant Secretary of State John Shattuck with leading dissident Wei Jingsheng during a visit in February.

The flap over the Shattuck-Wei meeting cast a pall over the subsequent visit of Secretary of State Warren Christopher in March, during which dozens of dissidents were detained or put under surveillance. Many of those detained remain in custody.

Only one dissident has been detained during Brown's visit, but that may be because the most vocal political activists are already in detention.

Human rights activists charge that China has become even more heavy-handed in suppressing dissent since Clinton's decision lifted pressure on the issue.

Clinton and many U.S. business leaders argued that using the annual threat to withdraw MFN from China was not an effective way to bring about improvements in China's human rights practices.

By resuming discussions on the issue, China's Communist rulers have sought to reinforce that point of view. But they also may be hoping that Washington will reciprocate by softening its stance on the issue of Beijing's application to join the world trade organization, or General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

China wants to join GATT as a developing nation and benefit from less stringent entry requirements, while Washington prefers that Beijing join GATT under less favorable conditions, given its strength as an export power.