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Clinton needs to learn to stand up to international bullies

It figured that the Dalai Lama, walking symbol of man's inhumanity to man, would be shut out of the international human rights conference in Vienna, and provide the perfect metaphor for the state of human rights in the world.

Europe washed its hands of human rights considerations in Bosnia. The Serbs continue to shell cemeteries, hospitals and funerals. Bosnia is the Kitty Genovese of nations. She's the woman who was stabbed to death in New York City while dozens of people looked on and decided not to get involved.

But letting in the Dalai Lama, a benevolent giant, would have upset China, and we can't do that. China invaded Tibet in 1950 and has continued to torture and rape its people. It is the same caution that underlies the renewal of the most favored nation treaty by President Clinton, who during the presidential campaign criticized George Bush for doing the same.

China has sent thousands of indigenous Chinese to overrun Tibetan population and culture. But Clinton, who promised to make human rights a pillar of his foreign policy, is renewing the most-favored-nation status of China for a year. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and others who fought Bush on unconditional favored status call it a victory for human rights because if the Chinese don't shape up in a year, they're out of luck.

Amnesty International calls China's human rights record "abysmal," and a brave few like Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., argue that a "straight, unconditional denial of MFN for China is the only response" _ especially in light of its atrocious record on weapons proliferation.

But trade and jobs talk louder than the screams of the tortured. U.S.-China trade hit $33-billion last year, and goodhearted Clinton, who promised during the campaign to be "a stronger voice for human rights," was easily persuaded to believe that the dragon needed only to hear a U.S. president and Congress speak with one voice to be intimidated into being decent.

China is the largest, most egregious violator, and to judge from its conduct in Vienna, the most shameless. There are, regrettably, other instances of riding roughshod over the most basic rights. East Timor and the Western Sahara are both small countries of little significance to us, but they are also victims of thuggish neighbors.

East Timor is an island of 75,000 that was conquered by Indonesia after Portugal set it free. It is mainly Catholic, while Indonesia is Muslim. During the occupation of East Timor by Indonesia, which began in 1975, the Indonesians set about a form of ethnic cleansing, with the help of agents and informers. Our State Department accused the government of "numerous human rights abuses."

Resistance continued, however, and in 1991 government troops fired on a crowd at the funeral of a Timorese leader, killing scores of non-violent protesters. More recently, the government tried the foremost rebel, Jose Alexander Cusmao, called Xanana. International observers were excluded from the last day, when Xanana was sentenced to life in prison.

Not a word of all this darkened Clinton's recent upbeat message to the Indonesians, which he delivered in a speech to the Export-Import Bank:

"When I go to the G-7 meeting in Japan, I'm going to meet with the president of Indonesia to send a signal to the non-aligned nations, to the emerging nations of the world, that the U.S. wants to be their partner."

The Western Sahara is another former colony trying to resist aggression. In a ploy popular in those parts since Julius Caesar planted his legions in conquered lands, Morocco's King Hassan has sent in thousands of citizens to vote in an upcoming U.N.-sponsored election. The French, former owners of Morocco, are behind him.

In 1975, an international court ruled that Western Sahara should have the right of self-determination. The Moroccans, like the Chinese in Tibet, flooded the country with colonists.

King Hassan, despite a lamentable human rights record, is a Washington favorite _ he's expected to be useful somehow in bringing about Middle East peace. His forces occupy two-thirds of Western Sahara.

Last week, the president of the country, Mohammed Abdelaziz, a slight, burning-eyed man, came to town to beg for support. Nobody in the Clinton administration would receive him. He was as lonely as the Dalai Lama in Vienna.

Few doubt Clinton's kind heart or good intentions. But he has to learn to stand up to international bullies, who are just like the domestic variety that are giving him such a bad time in his early days in power.

Universal Press Syndicate