HONG KONG -- Last month, China issued a white paper that purported to show progress it had made on the human-rights front in 2004. It was immediately dismissed by human-rights organizations as little more than propaganda. While this may well be true, there are signs of significant progress on human rights.

One significant event is the scheduled visit to China later this month by the United Nations' special rapporteur on torture, Theo van Boven. This visit had been discussed for many years, prompted by persistent reports of torture in Chinese prisons. China had issued an invitation to van Boven's predecessor, Sir Nigel Rodley, in 1999, but that visit never took place because Beijing at the time would not accept the special rapporteur's terms, including the right to make unannounced visits to places of detention and Chinese guarantees that there would be no reprisals against anybody who spoke to him. China has now accepted the terms.

Moreover, China has agreed to let the International Committee of the Red Cross open an office in Beijing next month, and to allow the special rapporteur on religious intolerance to visit the country.