HONG Kong's business community is still confident that China's Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status will be renewed despite a negative report on the country's human rights record issued by the American State Department on Tuesday. Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce director Ian Christie said US President Bill Clinton's decision on the renewal of MFN was still some time away. ''It is still four months off and that's a very long time in politics. ''That report should be over and done with by then, although I must say it would have a bearing on the issue,'' he said. He added that the factor in deciding the renewal of MFN for this year would be human rights. He said Hong Kong was in a very difficult position as it could not do much in this argument. ''We are the meat in the sandwich in this argument - between China and the US,'' he said. The problem was a difference in perception, he said. ''China equates human rights primarily with the provision of basic necessities - food, education, shelter, clothing for its enormous population of 1.1 billion. ''Washington, on the other hand, views these human rights in terms of democracy; various Western concepts of freedom which do not coincide with most Asian countries,'' he said. He said the difference was cultural and historical and very difficult to bridge. ''It is also very difficult for Hong Kong to influence that one way or another. ''Because we are a meeting point between East and West, we see both sides of the picture, but that does not help us play a role in mediating,'' he said. He said human rights was a very sensitive issue and one on which many people held strong views in China and in the US. ''If I had my bets, it's going to be a close run thing. ''The odds are on renewal but it would not be easy,'' he said. The American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) said the report did not take into account the progress made by China towards the end of last year. AmCham vice-president Steven Senderling expressed confidence that China would make significant progress on its human rights record by the time MFN came up for renewal in June. He said the report was one of the many factors which Mr Clinton would take into consideration in making his decision, and some of them were intangible. ''The fact is that China is moving in the right direction but perhaps not as fast as the US would want it. ''We are confident that this direction will continue so much that President Clinton, in all good conscience, will be able to extend MFN in June for China,'' he said. Hong Kong's Trade Department said it was not clear what impact the US report would have on the US Government's decision on renewing MFN. The department said Hong Kong was very concerned about the issue and would be following the developments closely. The US State Department's annual human rights reports portrayed Beijing's leadership as being conscious of the need to improve its image, but doing little about it. Acknowledging a handful of prisoner releases last year and a gradual loosening of control over the media, the report also presented a list of concerns over political detentions, police beatings, religious repression, unfair trials, forced sterilisation, denial of free speech and inequality for women. The report also said the Chinese Government's overall human rights record in 1993 fell far short of internationally accepted norms as it continued to repress domestic critics and failed to control abuses by its own security forces.