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Clinton Chides China, Wows Women


IN barbed rebukes aimed at China, Hillary Rodham Clinton made clear yesterday there would be few fences mended with Beijing during her visit to the UN women's conference. In her two-day appearance at the controversy-marred UN conclave, Mrs. Clinton had widely been expected to avoid confrontation with China in a move to repair strained ties between Beijing and Washington. Human rights activists, who have been the main target of intense Chinese security and scrutiny during the meeting, charged the first lady was lending prestige to her Chinese hosts. Instead, in her first speech at the Fourth UN World Conference on Women on Sept. 5, Clinton indirectly attacked China for police interference against activists attending a parallel nongovernmental forum and for abuses in its family-planning campaign. ''It is indefensible that many women in nongovernmental organizations who wished to participate ... have not been able to attend or have been prohibited from fully taking part,'' she said. Western analysts called Clinton's remarks a new irritant at a time when the Chinese had been hoping her presence would help ease strained ties. The tensions erupted this summer over an unofficial visit by the Taiwanese president to the US and the detention of Chinese-American activist Harry Wu. But her criticisms will play well politically at home and could further charge the atmosphere at the NGO forum, which Clinton addresses Sept. 6. ''Tragically, women are most often the ones whose human rights are violated,'' she said. ''I believe ... it is time to break the silence.... If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference,'' she continued to enthusiastic applause, ''let it be that human rights are women's rights. And women's rights are human rights, once and for all.'' ''Her remarks had something in it for everyone except the Chinese,'' says a Western diplomat. ''She sided with the political right [at the conference] by criticizing the Chinese family-planning program and placated the left by not remaining silent on the controversies of the conference.'' AT a seminar on health-care issues, Clinton stole some conservative thunder and harshly criticized measures widely used in China to enforce its strict one-child policy. That made her an odd bedfellow with Vatican delegates who are pushing to strengthen wording in the conference's platform of action against coercion in family planning. China, which Clinton did not specifically mention, has in rural areas required forced sterilizations and abortions in its zeal to contain growth of its 1.2 billion population. ''Women and men must also have the right to make those most intimate of all decisions free of discrimination, coercion, and violence....'' Clinton said. ''The Holy See joins with all participants ... in the condemnation of coercion in population policies,'' said Mary Ann Glendon, leader of the delegation representing the Roman Catholic pope. But Clinton also took issue with a conservative alliance that includes the Vatican and some Latin American and Islamic countries, which considers the conference too liberal, antifamily, and antimotherhood. The coalition is pushing to change a compromise, reached at last year's population conference in Cairo, on sensitive issues like abortion and birth control. Clinton listed a number of violations against women including rape, genital mutilation, dowry-related burnings in India, forced prostitution or slavery, and ignorance among many poor women about family-planning measures. She also attacked smoking as ''the No. 1 preventable'' cause of death for many women. Saying that the US opposes changes in the Cairo statement, she insisted on ''the basic right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so.'' After her speech to the 1,500 delegates, she said China is not the only country pursuing strident family-planning policies but said, ''Any country that practices forced abortions and sterilizations, I think, should be criticized for violations of rights.'' ''I was pleasantly surprised by Hillary,'' says Clare Michaels, a British activist who watched the speech on closed-circuit television at the NGO forum site in the suburb of Huairou. ''We thought our problems here would take a back seat to politics.''

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