ACROSS Beijing there is no escaping the message. ''A more open China awaits the 2000 Olympics.'' The slogan, emblazoned on huge billboards throughout the city, has become a symbol of the Chinese Government's determination to present a welcoming face to the world community in the hope of landing the biggest prize of the sporting world. But how more open has China really become? While the middle kingdom has certainly become more economically, culturally and socially accessible to foreigners over the past decade, on the sensitive issue of human rights, the government is still very guarded. As far as Beijing is concerned, the human rights of its people are its own business and it will not tolerate ''interference'' from outsiders, as a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs made clear. ''Human rights are encompassed by the sovereign rights of an individual country and shall be embodied in and guaranteed by that country's domestic legislation,'' a spokesman said. ''China's constitution safeguards all the rights of its people.'' He went on to say that human rights issues could be discussed, but only under certain conditions. ''Differences between various countries on human rights issues can be ironed out through dialogue on an equal footing and through promoting mutual understanding. We oppose countries and governments exterting pressure on this issue.'' He added: ''The international standard of human rights shall be determined by various international conventions. Those 'standards' set by one country or a group of countries shall not be imposed on other countries as international standards.'' While Beijing now grudgingly plays host to foreign human rights delegations, or ''parliamentary delegations'' as it prefers to call them, the subjects raised by those delegations, the people the delegates can meet, even the places they can visit are still strictly limited. The second Australian human rights delegation to China last November is a case in point. The delegation was refused permission to visit Tibet, an area which has perhaps given rise to more human rights concerns than any other in China, on the grounds of the ''behaviour'' of the first delegation and its ''irresponsible comments'' after returning to Australia. AT NO time was the delegation specifically told what was irresponsible about its behaviour or its comments but it was informed that the Tibetan people were upset by Prime Minister Paul Keating's meeting with the Dalai Lama in 1992. However, as a number of observers have pointed out, the refusal of the authorities to allow the Australian team into Tibet may actually have been a blessing in disguise given the arrests and suppression that preceded the visit to Tibet of a European ambassadorial delegation last month. But Tibet was not the only place taken off the Australians' agenda. The team was also refused permission to visit Beijing's notorious No 2 prison, home to several well-known political prisoners, such as ''black hand'' Chen Ziming, on the grounds that it was not a typical prison and therefore did not accurately represent the Chinese penal system. In its report to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, tabled last month, the delegation provides almost as much detail about what it was not allowed to do as about what it could do. Visits to individual prisoners were strictly off the agenda and while the authorities did accept a list of names believed to be prisoners of conscience, no reply has yet been forthcoming. The authorities also adamantly refused to reveal the number of judicial executions carried out in China, saying simply it was not China's policy to do so, this despite the fact that all executions are notified in the official media a few days after they occur. Some provincial governments did agree to provide figures for executions while others merely hinted at a figure. The Sichuan government, for example, told the delegation the number of executions in that province in 1991 corresponded to about one per million of population, putting the figure at 110. But since the provincial authorities refused to confirm the figure, the delegation said it must remain supposition only. The 10 delegates also discovered that certain questions were considered ''impolite'' or ''disrespectful'' and therefore should be avoided. In the far western, largely Muslim city of Kashgar for example the question of the position of religion in a Marxist state produced ''a very heated response'' from the delegation's principle guides. The delegates were told they had shown disrespect to the local Muslim leaders by raising such an issue in front of them. By contrast, in the more cosmopolitan city of Shanghai this issue was raised directly by the local religious leaders themselves. The differing responses of the two areas, the delegates said, revealed just how sensitive an issue religion was in Kashgar compared with more secular central China. Despite the lack of access to key areas and people and the refusal to discuss sensitive issues, the delegation concluded the authorities had generally been more open and more willing to provide detailed information than they had been during the first visit in 1991. The authorities did for example reveal for the first time there were about 4,000 people serving prison terms for counter-revolutionary offences in China. Officials also demonstrated an awareness of the need to develop the legal system and adhere to due process but they absolutely ruled out any change to the political system which would challenge the fundamental powerbase of the Chinese Communist Party. That, as the Foreign Ministry's spokesman might say, is not an issue foreign governments need concern themselves about.