Human Rights Watch today condemned the harsh sentences given Chinese dissidents Xu Wenli and Wang Youcai after summary trials.

"China's signature on a human rights treaty isn't worth the paper it's written on if this is what it does to peaceful political activists," said Sidney Jones, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. China signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights last October in a move that many governments welcomed as an indication of Beijing's growing commitment to international human rights principles.

Xu Wenli, fifty-five, was given a thirteen-year sentence on Monday, and Wang Youcai, thirty-two, received an eleven-year term following his trial last Thursday. The verdict in the trial of a third activist, Qin Yongmin, has not yet been announced. All three men were involved in trying to set up the Chinese Democracy Party, and all three were accused of attempting to subvert the government.

"China says it respects freedom of expression, but then arrests these men for calling for democratic change," said Jones. "It says it respects freedom of association, but then arrests virtually everyone associated with a new political party. It says it respects the rights of defendants, but then applies the principle of verdict first, trial second."

Human Rights Watch said that under the circumstances, it was time for governments now engaged in "human rights dialogues" with China--including the U.S., Canada, Australia, Japan, and the E.U.--to rethink what purpose these dialogues were serving.

"We have no problem with seminars on law and justice," said Jones, "but if the Chinese government persists in ignoring law and denying justice, the governments holding these seminars better look for a more forceful way of raising human rights concerns with Beijing." Human Rights Watch is urging governments to bring a resolution condemning China's human rights practices at the annual meeting in Geneva of the U.N. Human Rights Commission this coming March. This past April the effort was abandoned in favor of the less confrontational dialogues.

Human Rights Watch urged China's dialogue partners to make immediate, high-level appeals toBeijing for a commutation of the sentences handed down to Xu and Wang and to suspend any high-level trade delegations scheduled to visit China in early 1999 in protest against the harsh sentences.