OUTGOING American Commerce Secretary Barbara Franklin has urged President-elect Bill Clinton to continue President George Bush's controversial policy of engagement with China.
''Aggressive, timely and thoughtful follow-up on what we have done is essential. The inroads we have made in China are impressive, and they must continue,'' Ms Franklin told a meeting of the Washington International Trade Association.
Ms Franklin, a Bush appointee who will leave office on January 20 to make way for the incoming Clinton Administration recently returned from a controversial China trip that re-established high-level US contacts with Beijing suspended after the Tiananmen crackdown.
''I have come back from this trip with an even greater conviction that US business and the US Government must remain engaged in both the Chinese and Hongkong markets,'' said Ms Franklin who also visited Hongkong.
Her China visit - carried out on the orders of President Bush - came under sharp attack here by critics who complained about a large delegation of outgoing officials taking an expensive trip to restore high-level contacts with Beijing just weeks before Mr Bush steps down.
But a defiant Ms Franklin, who stressed that it would be a mistake to impose conditions on China's Most Favoured Nation (MFN) trade benefits, said she would emphasise this point in a report to Congress of her China trip.
Criticising advocates of increased American protectionism, she said, ''These people are dead wrong.'' ''I believe strongly that free markets can be the theme that brings Washington and Beijing together, even if for now we have other differences,'' she added.
Ms Franklin repeated Washington's position that the US supports greater democracy for Hongkong but said the current row over political reforms was a matter to be settled between Britain and China while taking Hongkong's aspirations fully into account.
Referring to recent threats by Beijing that it may not honour Hongkong contracts signed prior to 1997 Ms Franklin reiterated that the US ''will do all it can'' to protect the interests of American businesses in the territory.
''There can be no wavering on this point,'' she said.
Ms Franklin said she did not know if President Bush will lift the remaining Tiananmen-related sanctions on China before leaving office although she had come under pressure from Chinese Premier Li Peng who complained about the sanctions.