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Albright extols ties with China

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright glossed over differences on human rights, trade and technology exports Wednesday to emphasize a "strategic partnership" with China and set a mood for President Clinton's upcoming summit.

In more than five hours of private negotiations, however, Albright extensively debated U.S. concerns with senior Chinese officials.

She will take her concerns to President Jiang Zemin and Premier Zhu Ronji today. They are "the kind of issues that take place between two countries that have a great deal in common," Albright said at a news conference with Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan.

Having released a string of noted dissidents, China still holds some 2,000 political prisoners, by U.S. estimate, and the Clinton administration is shifting its strategy to push for wholesale releases, a senior U.S. official said after Albright's three-hour meeting with Tang and a two-hour dinner conversation with Vice Premier Qian Qichen.

On the other hand, Albright found the Chinese sharing U.S. determination to keep the Korean peninsula free of nuclear weapons, eager to maintain peace in the Persian Gulf and not challenging the U.S. military presence in the Pacific, said a U.S. official.

This growing common ground dominated the first day of a two-day visit by Albright, which is keyed to preparing for Clinton's state visit in June.

"We have a very broad-based relationship," she declared.

Her stress on common interests resonated with a government whose restrictions on expression are beginning to ease nine years after the brutal crackdown of a pro-democracy movement.

"We shall achieve the objective of building a country and also develop the country according to law," Tang replied.

Both the Chinese official and Albright referred to a "strategic partnership" between their countries, thereby giving their growing closeness far greater emphasis than their differences.

There are some, Albright said, referring to U.S. complaints about China's record on human rights, its export of technology that could help countries like Pakistan and Iran develop potent weapons and Chinese barriers to U.S. exports.

Tang, for his part, called attention to Taiwan as "the most important and most sensitive core issue" in China's relations with the United States.

Albright opened her visit with a ceremony that symbolized the growing closeness between the two nations. Implementing an agreement reached at the Clinton-Jiang summit last October in Washington, Albright and Tang established a hot line between their two capitals.

The secure communications link between the White House and Zhongnanhai, the Chinese leadership compound in Beijing, will enable the presidents of the two countries to engage in personal diplomacy.

It is not primarily a crisis mechanism, as the hot line between the White House and Kremlin was initially, and is due to be tested before or at the June summit.