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China To Consider Allowing Red Cross Prison Visits With AM-US-China

November 10, 1993

BEIJING (AP) _ China will consider allowing the Red Cross to visit prisoners, the foreign minister said Tuesday, in a sharp reversal of Chinese policy.

The move could help satisfy U.S. conditions for renewing China’s low-tariff trade status next year, and seemed likely to boost good will at next week’s U.S.-Chinese summit in Seattle.

The United States has repeatedly asked China to open its prisons to international humanitarian groups in hopes of reducing the incidence of torture and other abuses. But in the past, China has insisted that its treatment of prisoners is an internal affair.

″The United States has raised this demand but the International Committee of the Red Cross has not put forth such a request,″ Foreign Minister Qian Qichen said.

″I believe if the International Committee of the Red Cross makes such a request, we can give it positive consideration.″

Christophe Swinarski, head of the regional Red Cross delegation, said from Hong Kong that the committee would take Qian’s statement ″very seriously into consideration.″

Swinarski said he plans to visit Beijing this week on other business but could not comment on whether he would begin negotiations for prison visits.

″Sometimes it can take years or decades″ to work out the terms of visits, he said.

Qian spoke at a news conference for American journalists in advance of the summit between President Clinton and Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who will both attend an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Seattle.

It will be the first U.S.-Chinese summit since President Bush visited Beijing in 1989. Two months later, China’s violent suppression of pro- democracy protests by Chinese students prompted a sharp U.S. condemnation and sent relations between the two countries into decline.

Qian said China hopes the summit will put those relations back onto a ″normal track.″

″We believe at present that Chinese-U.S. relations are at an important juncture,″ Qian said, speaking in a large, chandeliered chamber of the Great Hall of the People.

The United States has linked the renewal of China’s most-favored nation trade status next year to China allowing free emigation and honoring a pledge not to export prison-made products to the United States. Clinton has also said he will take into account whether China makes ″significant progress″ on human rights issues, including allowing prison visits.

China generally bars foreigners from its prisons, although it has allowed special delegations and occasional journalists to visit model facilities. Visitors are rarely allowed to talk to prisoners and then only briefly, in the presence of officials.

Red Cross conditions for prison visits include private meetings with prisoners, the right to make repeat visits and the right to inform prisoners’ relatives about their condition, Swinarski said.

The Red Cross does not make its findings public unless the host country does so.

Update hourly