BEIJING — For the first time since the surge in opening of diplomatic relations between China and non-Communist countries in the 1970s, Beijing is being buffeted by human rights criticism from which it had largely been immune.
It is not only the United States that has made the basic rights of Chinese citizens a key factor in bilateral diplomatic relations. From Canada to Australia, throughout Western Europe and into Southeast Asia, governments have suddenly--some say belatedly--taken stands that they once seemed to reserve for the Soviet Union and other nations with a record of persecuting political dissidents.
"It is perhaps tragic that it took oppression of this magnitude to bring on an outcry," said a Western diplomat here, referring to the bloody suppression of anti-government protesters June 3-4. "But now at least, governments have to take human rights into account.'
China rejects the criticism as interference in its internal affairs and maintains that it is only the work of a "small number" of countries. The United States has been singled out because it is sheltering dissident leader Fang Lizhi and his wife, Li Shuxian, in the U.S. Embassy here.
Even several Communist-led countries from which little or no outcry might been expected have spoken up. On Thursday, the last day of his visit to West Germany, Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev said, "I think all of us are very much concerned at what is happening in China."
Vietnam, which has been at odds with China for many years but which has been seeking better relations, issued a statement denying reports that it supported the crackdown. It called the bloodshed "regrettable," although earlier Hanoi Radio, in an echo of the official Chinese version, had labeled the violence the work of "ruffians."
Among the surprise critics was Mexico, which often steers clear of even symbolic expressions on such messy foreign issues. The government there expressed disapproval by canceling a visit by Foreign Minister Fernando Solana to China that was scheduled later for this year. A reciprocal visit by Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen to Mexico was also suspended, the government said.
Last week, even President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua issued a mildly worded reproof, saying his country "cannot applaud the violence in Asian countries such as China or against the Palestinian or South African people."
Visa Extensions Offered
The U.S., Australian and Canadian governments, besides expressing disapproval, have all said they will grant the Chinese students in their countries extended visas if they fear returning home.
Chinese and foreign students around the world have protested the army assault on the demonstrators in and around Tian An Men Square. In a sense, the youthful demonstrations are an indication of a 30-year turn in the foreign view of China's government.
In the 1960s, China was the darling of activist students in far-flung lands. When Mao Tse-tung called out the youthful Red Guards to overturn the party bureaucracy during the Cultural Revolution, thousands of students around the world mimicked the hordes, often wearing the floppy caps of the People's Liberation Army and waving the Little Red Books of Mao quotations.
Now there have been reports of student demonstrations from such disparate countries as Britain, Japan, Mexico, the Philippines and Indonesia, which has been considering a renewal of ties with China after a 22-year-break.
Some governments of nearby countries have been restrained in their criticism for fear of severely damaging relations with China. The end of China's support for guerrilla wars in the region is credited with keeping most of Southeast Asia in relative peace since the end of the Vietnam War.
China is considered a key participant in peace talks aimed at ending the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia; China's consent is considered necessary if the brutal Khmer Rouge is to be kept out of a future government there. Thailand expressed concern that with a power struggle under way in Beijing, China might not continue to pay attention to the search for a solution in Cambodia.
Japan, after some mild expressions of concern about the violence, has stopped short of commenting on China's current manhunt of student leaders and other protesters. A Foreign Ministry spokesman in Japan said this week that "the crackdown is an internal affair."
Foreign Ministry spokesman Tazio Watanabe said: "It is our hope that the Chinese government will be fully cognizant of the international implications of the developments . . . and of its own status in international society."
Second Only to U.S.
Japan is China's second-leading trading partner, after Hong Kong. It is second only to the United States in terms of money invested in China.
The economic fallout of the diplomatic flare-up is hard to measure. A Chinese trade delegation returned ahead of schedule from Europe last week when the European Community canceled meetings with it in Belgium.