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Copyright 2000 Agence France Presse  
Agence France Presse

May 18, 2000, Thursday

SECTION: Domestic, non-Washington, general news item

LENGTH: 532 words

HEADLINE: Chinese dissidents warn US-China trade deal will strengthen Beijing's hand

BYLINE: Sharon Behn


   Exiled Chinese human rights activists and pro-democracy leaders Wednesday lashed out against granting China permanent normal trade relations, warning it would give Beijing free rein to continue its repressive regime.

"By adding the 'P' for Permanent, (Congress) will remove the last effective tool to pressure the communist government to change," warned Lian Shengde, one of the student leaders of the Tiananmen Square movement.

Arrested and imprisoned for his part in the student uprising, Shengde spent 19 hungry months in the notorious Quinchen prison before being released, weighing just over 41 kilos (90 pounds).

He finally managed to escape to the United States in 1994 after buying a passport in Tibet.

"Passage of PNTR would be a betrayal to the people still suffering in China, in jail, in labor camps," he told AFP, people like his parents who have been harassed for their son's political activities and refused permission to leave the country to visit him.

"What's going on in China is very clear: thousands of Falungong followers are getting arrested, hundreds of students are still in jail, people are still being deprived of any political rights," said Shengde.

China should not receive normal trade relations unconditionally, he said, while the country is under a repressive regime. PNTR would abolish the annual process by which China sees US tariffs on its goods lowered to the level enjoyed by all but a handful of nations.

"We support PNTR for a free China in the future. We are against unconditional PNTR for communist China today," he said.

Shengde also dismissed arguments from President Bill Clinton's administration and echoed by some Chinese dissidents that by granting China PNTR and ushering the country into the World Trade Organization, Beijing will pay heed to international rules of law.

"Investors will play by Chinese government rules to make easy money from labor that does not have any protection," the 31-year old dissident stated.

Wang Xizhe, a founder the China Democracy Movement, made it clear what he believes China must do to earn PNTR.

"The Chinese authorities have to make a commitment to political reform and ratify the two international treaties on human rights," he told AFP.

Wang, who lives in exile in the United States after being repeatedly imprisoned and tortured for his political writings in China, said if Congress approves PNTR, "the Chinese people at home will see the west as giving in to China's authority.

"The impact on the Chinese people is they will feel disappointed, discouraged," he said, speaking through an interpreter. "Surely, the Chinese government will become more repressive."

Wang and Shengde were in Washington to join some 60 Chinese human rights activists planning to protest the PNTR legislation, due to come to a vote in the House of Representatives next week.

The highly controversial legislation has split the Congress, but took a large step closer to becoming reality Wednesday after key House and Senate committees passed the legislation.

But both supporters and foes of the bill cautioned the outcome of next week's final vote was still too close to call.



LOAD-DATE: May 17, 2000

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