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Gore claims progress in China

Wrapping up discussions with Chinese leaders, Vice President Al Gore said Wednesday he had a "more receptive response" this week than in the past on the subject of human rights.

"I think we are finding ways to communicate more effectively with China's leaders on this topic," Gore said in a news conference after a meeting with Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

He added that the discussions "provided an opportunity to develop the broad strategic dialogue between our two countries."

Jiang also offered an upbeat assessment of the meetings, telling Gore earlier in the day: "The past two days have also been very productive, and this I believe (means) we can actually have a chat in a light atmosphere today."

The vice president's trip to the Chinese capital set the groundwork for a state visit to Washington next autumn by Jiang and a reciprocal visit to China by Clinton next year.

This week's trip is viewed as particularly important in Washington and Beijing, because the vice president is the highest-level official to visit China since 1989. In June of that year, the Chinese military killed at least several hundred peaceful demonstrators in and around Tiananmen Square.

Disagreements between the United States and China over human rights since then have been destructive to overall ties, and Gore steered clear of provocative rhetoric on Wednesday.

He told reporters he "made clear the seriousness of our commitment to the advancement of human rights, including in the areas of freedom of expression, association and religion." But he chose not to outline publicly Beijing's human rights abuses or even to be generally critical of them.

When asked to highlight specific human rights cases that he raised during the talks, he declined. Nor did he pinpoint any new agreements or other concrete progress in human rights _ or in the two sides' other areas of discussion, including trade, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the environment.

"Specific cases were raised during the course of my visit," Gore said. "I'm not going to to specify individual names to you, because I believe that the accumulated experience that we've had in the United States dealing with this issue shows very clearly that our prospects for success are enhanced by taking the approach I'm taking here."

Although Gore's talks with Chinese leaders ended Wednesday, he remains in the country for two more days, visiting the cities of Xian and Shanghai.

+ Gingrich in Hong Kong: U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich visited Hong Kong as part of a congressional delegation Wednesday and said he would try to hold China to its promise to maintain the British colony's freedoms after Beijing takes over July 1.

Gingrich, who flies to China today, did not, however, endorse outright the claims of some Hong Kong democrats that China already has damaged those freedoms by disbanding Hong Kong's elected legislature and rolling back some of its civil liberties.