Slapping The Hand That Pays Us

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WASHINGTON: In its annual human rights report, the State Department harshly reprimands China for silencing all voices of dissent. The report states: "All public dissent against party and government was effectively silenced by intimidation, exile or the imposition of prison terms, administrative detention, or house arrest. No dissidents were known to be active at year's end." Ironically, the survey was released even as two U.S. delegations were visiting China to talk about trade and human rights. Much to the chagrin of human rights activists, President Clinton delinked the two issues in his first term, a line new Secretary of State Albright seems to be following. She promised "to tell it like it is on the human rights issues" when she took office last week, yet warned that the overall relationship to China was too important to be held hostage to one issue. Translation: the U.S. is anxious to expand trade with a market that bought goods made in America worth almost $12 billion in 1995. Sidney Jones of the advocacy group Human Rights Watch Asia calls this approach schizophrenic. "The report shows that the State Department knows exactly how bad the situation is," she says. "But when Albright goes to Beijing at the end of February she will only pull a rabbit out of the hat, a small concession that lets everybody off the hook."