AMERICA'S top human rights official is planning a trip to China in a last-ditch effort to persuade Beijing to make concessions before the debate on the country's Most Favoured Nation (MFN) trading status hots up in Congress early next year. Sources in Washington said yesterday the Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights, John Shattuck, would probably visit Beijing at the end of January or in February. The sources said if Mr Shattuck won enough concessions on human rights, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Winston Lord and Secretary of State Warren Christopher would pay follow-up visits. Mr Shattuck's trip will follow high-powered visits to Beijing by leading Congressman Richard Gephardt and Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen, whose tours start respectively on January 14 and 19. ''The US administration has scheduled these visits to shock the Chinese out of their extreme self-complacency over MFN,'' a diplomatic analyst said. ''After the Seattle summit between presidents Jiang Zemin and Bill Clinton last November, Beijing is confident relations have improved and MFN is sewn up.'' In internal documents and newspapers, Chinese leaders and commentators have indicated that trade and security issues have displaced human rights as the focus of Washington's China policy. Sources in Washington said Mr Shattuck would tell the Chinese that in spite of Mr Clinton's commitment to an ''engagement policy'' with Beijing, unconditional MFN would be doomed if the administration could not convince Congress that China had made significant improvements on human rights. After visiting Beijing in October, Mr Shattuck said Washington would not renew MFN for China in 1994 unless human rights conditions were ameliorated. Before the Jiang-Clinton summit in Seattle, Mr Shattuck also held four hours of talks with the Assistant Chinese Foreign Minister, Qin Huasun. The only concession the Chinese have made is to let representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross inspect its prisons. Mr Shattuck told Mr Qin that the ''deadline'' for China's improvements in human rights would not be June 3, when Mr Clinton must make his recommendations to Congress, but mid-January, when the State Department publishes its international human rights report. Congressional sources said the report on China, which would have a major impact on how congressmen voted on MFN, was expected to be critical in view of Beijing's ''intransigence'' on the issue. The sources said debate on MFN would start in earnest in early February, when the Trade Subcommittee of the Ways and Means Committee of the House of Representatives was expected to begin a week-long hearing on MFN. Since the Tiananmen Square crackdown, the House has been a centre of ferocious attacks on Beijing's human rights policies. ''Shattuck, who may call on Beijing even before the House hearings, will tell the Chinese time is running out,'' a source said. ''The Americans may not be satisfied with yet another series of token releases of dissidents.'' The same tough message will be brought to the Chinese leadership by Mr Bentsen and Mr Gephardt. In addition to the treatment of dissidents, Mr Bentsen will focus on the US$20 billion (HK$154.46 billion) trade surplus enjoyed by Beijing. Mr Gephardt, who is a veteran House leader and a hawk on trade issues, has long opposed the granting of unconditional MFN. It is understood that the US Government persuaded him to go to Beijing instead of Hong Kong, as was originally scheduled for his trip to four Asian countries. Diplomatic analysts said that, buoyed by the extremely friendly reception corporate America had accorded Mr Jiang in November, Beijing was convinced that Mr Clinton's priority had shifted to boosting exports to China and the creation of jobs. They said while that perception was partly correct, Chinese leaders had under-estimated the ''anti-Beijing'' sentiments in Congress. ''The situation has changed since Seattle,'' said a veteran expert on Sino-US relations. ''With the devaluation of the yuan and the reform of the Chinese foreign trade system, Beijing needs the American market more than ever. ''Moreover, Clinton's priority in 1994 will be on domestic issues like health care reform.'' The expert said that, to pass the health care bill in Congress, the American President must secure the support of the two groups that had consistently opposed MFN for China: the labour unions and liberal democrats. ''Unless Beijing can give him concessions that can be sold to Congress, Clinton might sacrifice MFN in order to win support for much more crucial domestic bills like health care,'' he said. However, Western diplomats in Beijing said if China were willing to grant concessions after talks with Mr Bentsen, Mr Gephardt and Mr Shattuck, MFN would be assured as well as the full restoration of bilateral ties to pre-June 4, 1989, levels. They said a Beijing tour by Mr Christopher would be the precursor to a visit by Mr Clinton in the latter half of 1994.