BEIJING — Secretary of State James A. Baker III quickly began voicing concerns Friday over human rights abuses in China, informing Chinese leaders on his arrival here that "the United States cannot turn a blind eye toward . . . human suffering or political repression," a senior U.S. official said.
But at the same time Baker sought to ease the fears of China's Communist regime that America may be trying to overthrow it. A senior State Department official said Baker specifically assured Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen that the United States is not trying to undermine the Chinese leadership or government.
The Chinese foreign minister countered by telling Baker that "China and the United States should transcend the differences in ideology and have the 21st Century and the future in mind," according to a report on the meeting by the government's New China News Agency. Qian told Baker the United States should lift all its remaining sanctions against China.
Baker's arrival here Friday afternoon ended the Bush Administration's two-year freeze on official visits to China by high-level U.S. officials. The ban was imposed in June, 1989, after Chinese troops killed hundreds of people after a lengthy series of demonstrations in favor of democracy at Tian An Men Square.
This morning, Baker met in the Great Hall of the People with Premier Li Peng and President Yang Shangkun, two of the key figures in the 1989 decision to order troops into Beijing.
At least in the presence of reporters and photographers, the secretary of state tried to avoid showing even a trace of warmth or friendship toward Yang and Li.
Baker sat utterly stone-faced while Yang--who is now, at 87, probably the second-most-powerful leader in China after Deng Xiaoping--told him, "Mr. Secretary, when you return to Washington, please convey my greetings to my friend, Mr. (President) Bush."
For several minutes at the outset of their separate meeting, Li, 63, kept a determined smile on his face, but Baker refused to reciprocate. The secretary of state looked on grimly as the Chinese premier suggested it was time for the United States to get serious about China again.
"I can see you have come here for very important pragmatic and realistic purposes," the Chinese premier told the secretary. Baker would say only that China and the United States have "some problems," and that the Bush Administration was willing to discuss them "in a businesslike way."
A senior State Department official, briefing reporters, said Baker had raised "more than once" what he called "the tragedy of Tian An Men Square. He (Baker) basically laid out . . . that freedom is a very important principle to our people, and we believe to people around the world, (and) that human rights is the cornerstone of American foreign policy."
State Department officials acknowledged that Baker had been considering trying to meet with one or more Chinese dissidents during his Beijing visit--a step that would have been similar to President Reagan's session with Soviet dissidents at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. But the idea was scrubbed because, U.S. officials said, they feared that any Chinese dissidents Baker met would be subject to retribution.
"We do not want to do something that gets someone thrown in jail or taken out to a labor camp," said one State Department official traveling on Baker's plane in a remark that demonstrated the Administration's attitude toward the current human rights climate in China.
Baker was also said to have presented, in detail, American concerns about Chinese sales of missiles and nuclear technology and about China's trade practices.
(Asia Watch, a New York-based watchdog group, criticized the Chinese government anew for allegedly using prisoners--including, possibly, political detainees--to produce export goods, suspected examples of which have been on display at an American trade fair this week. The goods--including tools, steel and diesel engines--continue to arrive in the United States, Asia Watch said.
(Its Washington director, Mike Jendrzejcyzck, said that Baker, while in Beijing, "should insist that the Chinese allow the United States to inspect all factories and farms suspected of using prison labor. Thousands of prisons and labor farms may be involved in production for export, and Baker should not leave Beijing without concrete assurances that inspections will be allowed.")
In Beijing, it was unclear Friday evening whether China will sign any specific agreements or make any particular gestures or concessions toward the United States in any of these areas during Baker's trip. But the senior State Department official hinted that on Saturday or Sunday there might be specific announcements, perhaps concerning China's arms export policies.