President Clinton has placed America's economic strength at the heart of our national security strategy in the post-Cold War world. Our administration's foreign policy, like our country, stands for open societies as well as open markets. We are convinced that the two are inseparably linked.

This balance shapes our approach toward China. As the president has said, our policy recognizes "the value of China and the values of America." This approach also guided my recent trip to Beijing in advance of the early June deadline for the president's decision on renewing most-favored-nation trade status. My purpose was to inform China's leaders of the urgent need to make further progress on human rights, and to reaffirm our intention to engage China constructively on the many issues where our interests coincide.

The United States seeks a broad, positive relationship with a strong, secure and prosperous China. We pursue many important common goals on a bilateral, regional and global basis. We share a powerful interest in a stable and secure Asia. Both nations have a strong interest in ensuring a non-nuclear Korean peninsula, and we have been cooperating to achieve that objective. And with drug trafficking, alien smuggling, environmental degradation and other global issues, our agenda is growing as we head toward the next century.

Our economic interests are also converging. China's explosive growth is increasingly attractive to American exporters and investors. We are determined to expand American participation in the Chinese market. China has an even more significant stake in open and profitable access to the American market. We account for almost 40 percent of China's total exports, and its trade surplus with the United States is more than $20 billion.

But we must not assume that a free market in goods can produce or protect a free market in ideas. Nor can we abandon our responsibility to support human rights around the world. The character of our relationship with China depends significantly on how the Chinese government treats its people. The American people would have it no other way.

Last May, President Clinton forged the first consensus -- a consensus of conscience -- on American policy toward China since the horrors of Tiananmen Square four years earlier. The core of our policy, the president said, would be "a resolute insistence" on overall significant progress on human rights if MFN for China was to be renewed once again. The executive order that the president issued was shaped in the closest consultation with Congress, and it won wide support from business leaders and human rights advocates alike. This approach avoided more rigid legislation and stipulated that trade, nonproliferation and other issues would be addressed through instruments other than MFN.

Our specific conditions for renewing MFN are reasonable and attainable. We are looking for positive trends -- and we have made clear what is needed in the seven areas set forth in the president's executive order. We are not asking China to apply American prescriptions, only to adhere to the universal standards of human rights that bind most nations in the world today.

The president has reiterated that our intention is not to isolate China but to integrate it more fully into the global community and the global economy. Since last September, the administration has pursued a strategy of intensive diplomatic engagement with China to advance a range of security, political and economic goals. Within this comprehensive framework, we have given the Chinese the incentive and the latitude to demonstrate progress on human rights.

Congressional support for the president's policy has remained steady and strong. Last month more than two-thirds of the Senate voted to support the president's executive order and his approach toward human rights in China. And on the eve of my visit two weeks ago, 275 members of the House of Representatives sent me a letter backing the president's policy on MFN.

The suggestion that the Chinese discouraged my visit is a pure canard. Chinese Foreign Minister Qian has been encouraging me to visit for five months, most recently in our late January meeting in Paris. The Chinese confirmed plans for my visit in late February, asking only that I not arrive on March 10, the opening day of the National People's Congress. I obliged them by arriving on March 11.

Some say I should have canceled my trip, particularly in the face of the Chinese government's deplorable efforts to silence its citizens. But that course would have been a grave error. I went to Beijing to carry out the president's policy and to make sure that the Chinese government -- at the highest levels -- does not misunderstand our nation's position and does not underestimate the strong support that our policy commands from Congress and the American people. Despite some of the atmospherics, I believe that this message now has been clearly received by China's leaders. And I believe that they now realize that complacency is not an option.

In the course of very tough exchanges, we made progress on the two mandatory issues specified in the executive order. We signed a joint declaration to end exports to the United States of goods produced by prison labor. We also received concrete assurances on inspections of all suspected Chinese facilities, within strict time limits. And China promised to resolve the few outstanding emigration cases.

On other issues, China agreed for the first time to review interference with VOA signals. It agreed to begin talks with Red Cross experts to arrange visits to prisoners of conscience. China also supplied information on about 235 prisoners we had identified, and for the first time promised to provide information on the status of 106 imprisoned Tibetans.

I told China's leaders that these steps represented improvement, but more is needed. Particular progress is required with respect to the release of prisoners and the situation in Tibet. Anyone who has worked to advance human rights knows that it is tough, slogging work and the progress usually comes only in incremental stages. I will not invent or inflate that progress.

We will be seeking -- and evaluating -- further progress as we move toward decisions on renewing MFN. That goal is attainable if Beijing truly wants the more constructive relationship that is within reach.

The writer is secretary of state.