US concern at HK row over political reforms

PRESIDENT Mr Bill Clinton's top Asia policy adviser, Mr Winston Lord, last night told Congress that Washington should make clear to China that the US had ''large humanitarian and commercial stakes'' in the future of Hongkong.

Mr Lord said that while the US did not want to challenge the principle of ''One China'', Washington must build its relations with Hongkong through the new US-Hongkong Policy Act and with Taiwan through the Taiwan Relation Act.

Appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations hearing which must approve his new position as the Assistant Secretary of State for Asia, Mr Lord accused Chinese leaders of clinging to an ''outdated authoritarian system''.

Mr Lord, a former US ambassador to China who has criticised president Mr George Bush's China policy, told the senators that the US should not shun China but must make clear that America expected reforms.

He said Washington should look towards more progressive forces in China in its long-term ties.

''We need both to condemn repression and preserve links with progressive forces which are the foundation for our longer term ties.

He said that while American should seek co-operation with China on a range of issues ''Americans can not forget Tiananmen Square.'' Mr Lord accused China of releasing some prominent dissidents while arresting many others.

Earlier, the Secretary of State Mr Warren Christopher - declaring staunch support for democracy in Hongkong - told Congress he was concerned about the situation in the territory caused by the row over political reforms.

Mr Christopher said the Clinton administration would use Most Favoured Nation (MFN) trade benefits to pressure China on human rights, fair trade and arms control.

But China responded by criticising support for Governor Mr Chris Patten's constitutional package, saying no foreign country had the right to get involved.

A Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said the Hongkong issue was a matter ''between the two governments of China and Britain before July 1, 1997''.

''No third party has the right to meddle in [it],'' she said.

The chairman of the Hongkong General Chamber of Commerce, Mr Paul Cheng, who is leading a lobby mission to Washington, said after meeting senior officials that he expected the US to attach certain ''general'' conditions to MFN renewal.

Mr Christopher told senators that the US was ''very supportive of the democratic movement that has taken place in Hongkong'' as well as Mr Patten's reform proposals.

''I support the reform that the Governor has put forward and hope they can survive 1997,'' Mr Christopher said in response to a question by Senator Mitch McConnell, who last year sponsored legislation forging closer US-Hongkong ties.

Mr Christopher said that US support for Hongkong democracy would be reflected in a State Department report to Congress on Hongkong as required by the McConnell legislation.

Mr McConnell noted during the hearing that ''enthusiasm for democracy in Hongkong is not universal'' because many businessmen did not support it.

On China's MFN trade status, which comes up for renewal in June, Mr Christopher said he fully backed Mr Lord's tough position.

He said US policy towards Beijing would be ''nuanced and balanced'', recognising progress in market reforms, but using pressure in other areas.

In a related development, a vocal supporter of Hongkong democracy, Senator Connie Mack, has agreed to sponsor a bill in the upper house of Congress proposing special immigrant visas for Hongkong journalists.

Congressman Mr John Porter had this month introduced the bill in the House of Representatives, but the measure lacked a sponsor in the Senate.

In agreeing to co-sponsor the bill, Senator Mack said the special visas would ''help ease the minds of Hongkong journalists who fear reprisal from Chinese Government officials in 1997''.