China slow to congratulate Clinton It fears he may link rights, trade status

November 06, 1992|By Robert Benjamin | Robert Benjamin,Beijing Bureau

BEIJING -- The Chinese government finally congratulated Bill Clinton yesterday -- a day after all other world powers offered their goodwill to the American president-elect.

The delayed greeting underscores China's worries that Mr. Clinton will deliver on campaign promises to link renewal of its favorable trade status with the United States to signs of improvement in its human-rights abuses -- a condition that China yesterday again flatly rejected.

Adding to the diplomatic slight, China's congratulations first came only in response to questions at the Foreign Ministry's weekly press briefing.

"The Chinese government always attaches importance to Sino-U.S. relations and is ready to work with the new U.S. administration for the improvement and development of bilateral relations," said a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman.

Mr. Wu also said that Chinese President Yang Shangkun, Vice President Wang Zhen and Premier Li Peng had sent messages earlier yesterday to Mr. Clinton and Vice President-elect Al Gore.

He claimed that these messages had been made public, but they were not released yesterday by Xinhua, the state news agency.

Asked about Mr. Clinton's strong stance on Chinese human- rights abuses, Mr. Wu first responded mildly: "Naturally, the two sides have differences on the question of human rights for they have different social systems, ideologies, cultures, histories. We hope that the two sides can carry out cooperation and promote mutual interests."

But he later firmly reiterated that any moves to attach conditions to China's most-favored-nation trade status with the U.S. are "unwise and unacceptable to China."

China had hoped Mr. Bush would be re-elected, essentially because the president has vetoed U.S. congressional efforts to attach conditions to China's most-favored-nation standing.

But state-run media here offered only straight-forward reporting of the U.S. election campaign and the president's defeat -- indicating that the government is waiting to see if Mr. Clinton, once in office, will soften his views toward China.

The uncertainty over how tough Mr. Clinton might be toward China could work to the U.S. advantage, Harry Harding, an expert on Sino-American relations at The Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., said last week.

"If Clinton used it creatively and kept his options open, it could work as leverage in his favor," he said.

Nonetheless, there remains great potential for Sino-American relations to flare up -- not only over human rights and trade, but also over China's arms sales to the Middle East and its harsh rule in Tibet.

This is particularly so on the U.S. side because the fall of communism in the former Soviet Union has removed a key U.S. strategic need for close ties with China.

And for China, the end of the Cold War only seems to have stiffened its resolve to not cave into what it perceives as a U.S. effort to dominate the world as the only remaining superpower.

"The U.S. has not changed. But a world dominated by only one system cannot work," says an internal political directive given to some Chinese reporters earlier this year.

"America, having become the only superpower, is now overly ambitious to push foward a new form of hegemonism and power politics."

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