Former US defence secretary Robert McNamara says senior Chinese authorities have privately expressed a willingness to adopt two United Nations covenants on human rights. Mr McNamara said yesterday in Beijing he detected 'movement' in China's human rights stance after private talks with several officials, including Foreign Minister Qian Qichen . His remarks coincided with China's publication of a scathing anti-American commentary that accused the United States of hypocrisy in condemning the mainland's rights record. 'I sensed a definite movement towards greater acceptance of international standards in relation to human rights,' Mr McNamara said. Asked if he had received assurances that China was prepared to free jailed dissidents, he replied: 'I don't want to talk about particulars. 'I do not wish to exacerbate tensions between our two countries.' A spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry yesterday repeated assertions that Beijing was considering signing the United Nation's International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and a related document promoting economic, social and cultural rights. Mr McNamara credited communist authorities with 'advancing the quality of life for the mass of their people' since the start of economic reforms in 1979. 'I do see signs of greater freedom, greater mobility, greater freedom of expression of ideas,' said the former defence chief, in Beijing to attend a state-sponsored forum on Sino-US relations. The seminar coincided with the publication of a lengthy attack by Xinhua (the New China News Agency) that described the US as a 'land of terror' where most blacks 'live in areas with hazardous waste sites', convicts are whipped, and prisons are 'no different from the medieval lairs of small animals'. The Xinhua commentary followed the January release of a US State Department report that condemned China for 'widespread' human rights abuses. 'We strongly advise the US Government to put its own house in order before pointing its finger at other countries,' the agency said.