The United States and China clashed over human rights Monday as visiting Secretary of State Madeleine Albright shared a blunt exchange of words with Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan.
Albright said Washington "deplored" Beijing's crackdown on pro-democracy activists while Tang said human rights were no excuse for "wantonly interfering in other countries' affairs."
"A handful of anti-China elements within the United States are going all out to interfere with and obstruct the normal development of China-U.S. relations," Tang said in opening remarks to reporters before the talks in Beijing.
"We've always been opposed to politicizing the human rights question and to wantonly interfering in other countries' affairs by using human rights questions as an excuse," he said.
But Albright said human rights were a "question of grave concern" and she would raise the issue with Tang.
"We have deplored the actions that have taken place recently and I will raise those issues with the foreign minister," she said in an apparent reference to a crackdown that began with last year's arrest of Xu Wenli, who along with other dissidents launched a fledgling political party last year.
Beijing responded to that effort with arrests and prison sentences of up to 13 years, reports CBS News Correspondent Barry Petersen.
As Albright arrived in China Sunday night, her spokesman James Rubin criticized last week's detention of dissident Wu Yilong and the sentencing of democracy advocate Peng Ming.
The continuing crackdown on dissent capped a week in which Washington and Beijing squared off on a range of unrelated issues that highlighted the complexity of a relationship President Clinton has said could become a "strategic partnership."
Human rights will be the most contentious U.S. concern in Albright's two days of talks, while Beijing would put the emphasis on stopping Washington from even considering missile defenses for China's neighbors, especially Taiwan, Rubin said.
On Friday, the State Department released an annual report saying human rights deteriorated sharply in China last year. Nevertheless, the Clinton Administration will not link Beijing's human rights performance to trade.
"We determined some time ago that it was not a good idea to link human rights and trade and that we actually make better progress with both when they are not linked," Albright said.
Even so, Beijing said China was seriously displeased with the report.
But Albright and Tang said that in the long term, relations between the U.S. and China had improved and that both countries were committed to narrowing their differences.
"I arrive here committed to find a way to move ahead on the many core issues in our relationship. These include regional security, non-proliferation, trade, human rights and responding to global problems," Albright said.
"he U.S. and Chinese governments have the responsibility, standing on the high ground of our times and history and looking into the next century, to remove obstacles to the growth of our bilateral relations. I have quite high expectations for the talks today," added Tang.
Albright has talks Monday with Tang, Prime Minister Zhu Rongji and Vice Premier Qian Qichen. Part of her mission is to prepare for Zhu's visit to Washington in April.
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Copyright 1999 CBS. All rights reserved.