Major's China Visit To Test British Resolve on Rights
BRITISH Prime Minister John Major began a visit to Beijing yesterday with unique leverage for promoting human rights in China, foreign policy experts and Hong Kong legislators say.The collapse of the Soviet Communist Party has compounded China's isolation and made it more vulnerable to foreign pressure over its denial of civil liberties, according to the experts. "The end of the Soviet [Communist Party] has put an enormous strain on the Chinese leadership and given Major a golden opportunity to strongly pressure China on human rights," says Chang Chakyan, a senior lecturer in political science at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Mr. Major "can make it clear that China must change its policies if it hopes to be fully reintegrated into the world community," Dr. Chang adds. The prime minister will be the first Western leader to visit Beijing since the massacre of pro-democracy activists in June 1989. But political pragmatism will probably lead Major to limit his condemnation of Beijing. Foreign policy experts point to two factors weakening Major's hand during his visit. Heavy-handed criticism or threats by the prime minister could backfire on efforts by the industrialized democracies to nurture a cooperative, moderate China, they say. US and British officials have justified their conciliatory China policy by saying the industrialized democracies need China, one of the five permanent members on the UN Security Council, to join in solving regional conflicts and in addressing global concerns such as weapons proliferation. "From a tactical standpoint, the West should not force China against the wall but try to draw it out," says Frank Ching, an author and newspaper columnist. Major also must soften his censure in order not to shatter a delicate agreement with Beijing over the administration of Hong Kong in the six years before Britain hands over control of the territory to China. After several months of combative negotiating, Britain and China in July endorsed an administrative framework for the construction of a $16.3 billion port and airport complex in Hong Kong. Beijing had complained that the project would sap the former British colony's treasury when it returns to China's control in 1997. The agreement gives China limited control over the project in return for a tacit assurance that it will cooperate with Britain before the hand-over of the territory in 1997. Major plans to sign the airport agreement during the visit. Beijing clearly views the visit as a propaganda triumph. The state-run media has trumpeted the three days of talks as a dramatic step toward the normalization of Sino-British relations. British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd said Sunday that while raising human rights issues, Major would voice his concern over hunger strikes by Chinese dissidents. Wang Juntao and Chen Ziming, two Chinese activists sentenced to 13 years in jail for joining the pro-democracy protests in the spring of 1989, have staged a hunger strike since Aug. 14 in the Beijing No. 2 Prison. Liberal legislators in Hong Kong say the prime minister's censure over China's widespread human rights abuses is likely to be ritualistic at best. "In Hong Kong we see the Major visit in light of the ancient practice of foreign emissaries paying tribute to the Middle Kingdom," says Martin Lee Chuming, a legislator and a leader of the territory's fledgling democracy movement. Liberal legislators say it is ironic that Major will stump for human rights while signing an airport accord granting China administrative powers it could later use to abuse civil liberties [Bin the territory. China "tested the waters [of British resolve] and found those waters to be very shallow," says Chang.