In a surprise announcement, the Chinese government told U.S. Commerce Secretary Ron Brown Tuesday that it is ready to resume discussions with the United States on human rights.
The decision was clearly intended to reward Brown for pushing President Clinton to stop tying China's trade privileges to its human rights practices.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 upon improvements in its human rights practices.
Brown said he was "exhilarated by the results" of his trip, which China has hailed as marking a new era in Sino-U.S. business ties. He said nearly $5 billion in business deals had been concluded in the first three days of the eight-day trip, but he didn't elaborate.
"We came with high expectations about our ability to have a profoundly positive impact on the relationship between China and the United States. We have already met and surpassed those expectations," he said.
Brown was told about China's willingness to discuss human rights just minutes before a news conference. He said Foreign Minister Qian Qichen would visit the United States at the end of September.
China and the United States had held informal talks on human rights since 1990. China suspended the talks when U.S. Assistant Secretary of State John Shattuck met with dissident Wei Jingsheng in February.
The meeting cast a pall over the 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.
One dissident was detained during Brown's visit. Human rights activists charge that China stepped up its repression of dissent after Clinton's May decision.
By resuming talks on human rights, China's communist rulers may be hoping that Washington will soften its stance on Beijing's application to join the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the world trade organization.
China wants to join GATT as a developing nation and benefit from less stringent entry requirements.