The highest-ranking British official to visit China since last year's crackdown on pro-democracy protests expressed hope Thursday for gradual improvement of China's relations with the West.
Francis Maude, a British Foreign Office minister of state responsible for Hong Kong affairs, said he urged Chinese leaders to take new steps to ease political repression and thereby help create the environment necessary for further relaxation of economic and political sanctions imposed by Western nations last year.
The massacre of protesters in Beijing "was a bloody act which caused great revulsion in the West--a revulsion which has not dimmed over the 13 or 14 months since then, and in response to which there were measures taken by Western countries," Maude said at a news conference.
"What I have said to the Chinese government is that there have since then--particularly in the last few months--been some encouraging moves on human rights, the release of some detainees (arrested in the crackdown), the lifting of martial law both in Beijing and Tibet and the decision to allow (leading dissident) Dr. Fang Lizhi to leave China to come to the United Kingdom," Maude said.
"All those are encouraging and good developments," he added.
Maude's visit was primarily to discuss issues concerning the British colony of Hong Kong, which is due to revert to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. Both the British and Chinese sides said these talks were conducted in a cordial atmosphere.
Maude's presence in Beijing and his comments mark a gradual but significant easing of tensions between China and Western nations.
Premier Li Peng--one of the top leaders who advocated using the army to suppress last year's demonstrations--said earlier this week, in remarks paraphrased by the official New China News Agency, that "the clouds of attempting to isolate China are dispersing as more and more countries are responding to China's sincere desire for friendly coexistence with other countries."
Li made his remark to a non-governmental Australian delegation.
Japan has taken the lead among Western countries in seeking to restore normal relations with China. Tokyo recently informed Beijing that it will disburse $811 million in September as the first portion of a previously promised $5.5-billion developmental loan package.
In a meeting Monday with a Liberal Democratic Party delegation from Japan led by former Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, Li expressed appreciation for what he described as Japan's friendly attitude toward China at the recent Group of Seven summit in Houston, the New China News Agency reported.
Yuji Kumamaru, a Japanese Embassy spokesman, said that Miyazawa delivered a message to Li from President Bush expressing hope for "positive" developments in China.
The restoration of more normal relations between the West and China is likely to be a step-by-step process, with more relaxed approval of low-interest loans being an early step, Maude said at Thursday's news conference.
"I don't expect there to be a full lifting of sanctions in the foreseeable future," he said. "For example, the embargo on arms sales, military equipment, to China--I see no prospect in the near future of that embargo being lifted."