WASHINGTON — President Bush said Friday that there has been some progress on human rights in China as a result of the secret trips to Beijing by Brent Scowcroft, his national security adviser.
"The Voice of America, for example . . . you know, they have a person permitted to go there (to China)," Bush said at a news conference. Moreover, he said, China has repeated pledges not to sell missiles in the Middle East, "which I think is in the interest of peace in the world."
"So there's been progress," he said, and "I would like to hope that there would be more."
The President's remarks appeared to be aimed at persuading Congress not to take further steps against China when it resumes work later this month. Congress is expected to act on legislation that would impose a series of economic sanctions. Last November, Congress approved a bill enabling more than 30,000 Chinese students to stay on indefinitely in the United States.
Bush did not say there has been any easing of the severe crackdown on dissent that the Chinese regime has carried out since the People's Liberation Army was called in last June to crush student-led pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing's Tian An Men Square.
He said he is not sure whether China will agree to release Fang Lizhi and his wife, Li Shuxian, dissidents who were granted refuge at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing last June. Asked whether the Fang matter is close to a resolution, Bush replied, "I don't know the answer to that."
He acknowledged that his decision to restore high-level contacts with the Chinese leadership was controversial.
"Some think the best way to make change for human rights in China is isolation," he said. "Don't talk to them. Try to punish them by excommunication. I don't feel that way, and so I asked these people to go forward."
In June, three weeks after the Chinese army descended on Tian An Men Square, Bush announced that he was cutting off all high-level exchanges with the Beijing government. At the time, officials said this meant that no senior U.S. officials would visit China and no senior Chinese leaders would be allowed to come here.
Last month, Bush dispatched Scowcroft and Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger to Beijing to talk with top Chinese leaders. Their mission was kept secret until after the two officials arrived in Beijing. Afterward, the White House confirmed that the two had also made an earlier, unannounced visit to China over the weekend of July 4.
Asked Friday about the clandestine nature of the two Scowcroft missions, Bush replied: "Well, let me simply say that some things will be conducted in secrecy. . . . This move into Panama (Dec. 20) was held in secrecy, and I think the American people understand that."
China announced Dec. 14 that it will allow the Voice of America to send a correspondent to Beijing. The Chinese regime had expelled a VOA correspondent in mid-June. U.S. officials say China is still trying to jam VOA's Chinese-language programs.
Bush also expressed support Friday for Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's effort to deal peacefully with the growing independence movements in the Soviet Baltic republics.
Asked whether he is confident that there will be no crackdown by the Soviet leadership in the Baltics, Bush replied: "Well, I'm certainly not buying into the hypothesis that there will be (a crackdown). And I hope that this approach that (Gorbachev) has taken, for which we give credit, will prevail."