The opening up of China would eventually lead to the collapse of authoritarian control, in the same way the Berlin Wall collapsed along with communism in Europe, President Clinton predicted yesterday. His declaration that the advent of Chinese democracy was 'inevitable' was made as he justified his policy of maintaining a softer line on human rights abuses. During a press conference at the White House, Mr Clinton conceded: 'We have not made the progress in human rights that I had hoped to make. 'But that does not mean that if we had followed a policy of isolating ourselves from China when no one else in the world was prepared to do that, that we would have got better results,' he said. 'They [China] are going through some significant economic and political changes, and I believe that the impulses of the society and the nature of the economic change will work together, along with the availability of information from the outside world, to increase the spirit of liberty over time. 'I don't think that there's any way that anyone who disagrees with that in China can hold that back - just as, eventually, the Berlin Wall fell. I just think it's inevitable.' Defending his 'comprehensive engagement' policy, he said: 'I still believe, over the long run, being engaged with China, working with them where we can agree . . . and continuing to be honest and forthright and insistent where we disagree, has the greatest likelihood of having a positive impact on China.' Mr Clinton's remarks on China's human rights records were dismissed by a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman in Beijing yesterday. The spokesman insisted China's protection of human rights was evident to 'anyone without prejudice'. 'China always protects and promotes the legal rights of its people,' the ministry said in a statement. Meanwhile, US Ambassador James Sasser, in an interview with Xinhua (the New China News Agency), urged fellow Americans to visit the mainland this year to gain a 'better appreciation of China's achievements'. In remarks attributed to Mr Sasser by Xinhua, the US diplomat recommended that 'more people visit China and come to understand what is happening here.' A US embassy official confirmed the ambassador had granted an interview to Xinhua and said the remarks appeared to be accurate.