Clinton must prepare for dialogue, say experts

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 January, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 January, 1993, 12:00am

A PANEL of top American experts on Asia has issued a report making clear that the Clinton administration must prepare for a comprehensive dialogue with China on human rights and other sensitive issues to head off a confrontation with Beijing.

One panel member, Mr Harry Harding, of the Brookings Institution, said United States President Mr Bill Clinton should take into account China's treatment of Hongkong in devising his overall China policy.

The report, issued by the San Francisco-based Asia Foundation, warned of an early test in US relations with Beijing under Mr Clinton, but made clear it was not in America's interest to isolate China.

''It is vital the Clinton administration prepare for comprehensive dialogue with China on issues ranging from human rights, trade, arms transfer and regional security,'' the report, America's role in Asia, said.

But the experts stressed it would be ''unwise'' to take immediate action on one aspect of the relationship while the new administration reviews its China policy.

Panel members who released the report at a seminar were asked why it did not dwell on the current row between Britain and China over political reforms in Hongkong - an issue that has aroused concern among US policy-makers.

Mr Harding and other panel members said American leverage on the Hongkong issue was limited since it was a matter between Britain and China.

The report recommends that the Clinton administration pursue a policy of ''continued engagement'' with China that is designed to support Chinese economic and political liberalisation.

But it recommends against imposing human rights and other conditions on the renewal of China's Most Favoured Nation trade benefits, proposing instead the use of specific sanctions to bring about specific changes in Chinese behaviour.

The report charges that the US has failed to give Asia continued high-level interest in recent years.

The report also suggested continuing normalisation of relations with Vietnam and continuing support of the UN peace-keeping presence in Cambodia.

It recommended that Washington match the North American Free Trade Agreement with similar arrangements for Asia.