AMERICA'S new Secretary of State, Mr Warren Christopher, has said he supports legislation imposing conditions on trade with China, but has made it clear that the Clinton administration is undecided on when or how to carry out such a policy.
Mr Christopher also said the new administration fully supported Governor Mr Chris Patten's democratic reform proposals, which he said were ''constructive and deserve serious consideration''.
He told American senators that President Mr Bill Clinton would support the controversial United States-Hongkong Policy act signed into law by Mr George Bush - but opposed by Beijing - which promotes a greater US role in the territory under Chinese rule.
But he stressed that while the Clinton administration backed greater democracy in Hongkong and was concerned about the welfare of Hongkong people, the current row over Mr Patten's proposals was a matter between Britain and China.
Mr Christopher's statements were contained in written answers to a wide variety of foreign policy questions submitted by members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The committee - which last week approved Mr Christopher's nomination as Secretary of State - had questioned him on foreign policy issues during two days of confirmation hearings, but some senators filed additional questions on a range of subjects, including Hongkong, China, and Taiwan.
Mr Christopher said that he agreed with Mr Clinton's position - adopted during the election campaign - in support of legislation imposing human rights, arms control and trade conditions on the annual renewal of China's Most Favoured Nation (MFN) trade benefits.
He said that while Mr Clinton supported conditions on MFN, he had yet to decide ''when or how'' they could be imposed as the issue would not come up until the spring.
In reply to a question on whether there was an alternative to imposing conditions on MFN to press China on human rights and other reforms, Mr Christopher said the new administration had not yet decided what other tools were available or how to measure Beijing's progress.
This contrasts somewhat with the position Mr Christopher took while being questioned directly last week.
He said then that the US should not think of MFN as the only tool to persuade China.
''We ought to try to deal with creative diplomacy,'' he said at the time.
In his written reply, he said the President would consider his China policy in a ''careful and deliberate'' manner.
Mr Christopher made it clear the Clinton administration would not resume arms sales to China. Such sales are banned as part of American sanctions imposed after the Tiananmen killings although Mr Bush last month permitted limited sales.
Mr Christopher said the US would ''vigorously seek'' access to Chinese prisons suspected of producing forced labour goods for export to the American market.
In response to a question about how the US would react if China attacked Taiwan, Mr Christopher said the new administration's policy would be to make sure that such an attack ''does not occur'' but he refused to provide details, describing the questionas hypothetical.
He said he supported Taiwan's membership of GATT - the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which promotes liberalised world trade - but added that Taipei's membership should be considered as part of overall US policy towards China.
China, which also wants to become a GATT member, insists that Taiwan should not be allowed to join first.