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Keep the Heat on China : New rights abuses underline need for firmness by Christopher

March 09, 1994

Troubling reports that Chinese dissidents, including Wei Jingsheng, have been detained and harassed in Beijing come as U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher heads to China on an Asian tour. Wei, the most prominent of the dissidents, was arrested and held for a day last week; now the government says he is out of Beijing on a "personal matter." Zhai Weimin, a leader in the 1989 Tian An Men protests, has not been heard from since he was whisked away by plainclothes policemen near Beijing's university district last Sunday.

Such treatment of dissidents on the eve of Christopher's visit only draws attention to China's dismal human rights record. Since his release in September after more than 14 years in prison, Wei has been urging the United States to keep pressure on China to release thousands of political prisoners.

Some observers say that harassing dissidents is Beijing's way of demonstrating its national sovereignty. But ultimately these actions are a self-indictment of China's repressive government and serve to obscure the increase in personal freedom that the Chinese people have experienced as their country's economic conditions have improved.

A sense of progress is lost when, for example, Beijing invites Rone Tempest of The Times and four other U.S. correspondents to a forced-labor camp, as it did last week, to see but not speak with Liu Gang, arrested during the 1989 demonstrations. Such superficial displays do not constitute human rights. That's why Christopher must keep pressing the issue.

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