Engagement policy 'must be kept up'

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 December, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 December, 1998, 12:00am

The United States should not give up its policy of engagement with China despite the arrest of dissidents, Washington's former ambassador to Beijing said yesterday.

James Lilley, ambassador from 1989 to 1991 and a one-time assistant secretary of defence, warned against rash action over human rights, saying: 'There aren't quick fixes.' Mr Lilley, director and resident fellow of Asian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, believed the rights issue should be dealt with by encouraging China to adopt a rule of law and hold elections at the grassroots level. The US should work with the National People's Congress and the State Council, he said.

But Mr Lilley warned the process would be slow. 'China will evolve towards openness in a Chinese way,' he told an Asia Society luncheon in Hong Kong.

In the first 13 months of his tenure in Beijing, Mr Lilley worked on nothing but the release of prominent dissidents as well as scientist Fang Lizhi and his wife, he said.

The arrests of dissidents were unfortunate and they did not deserve what they got. But 'our Government should be careful about what we will do'.

Mr Lilley described the progress in human rights as 'two steps forward, one step backward'. 'Right now, it is not going very well,' he said.