China's place in the world Summit overlook: Taking part in world trade, arms control and economic growth.

November 01, 1997

WHILE President Jiang Zemin was unveiling agreements with President Clinton in Washington, Beijing was announcing that President Boris Yeltsin of Russia will visit China Nov. 9 to cele-brate demarcation of their 2,600-mile border. Improved relations between two of the three superpowers no longer are at the expense of the third. Steps toward normalizing China's relations with the world coincide with Mr. Jiang's consolidation of power inside it, eight years after he was elevated to party leadership as a compromise lightweight.

For all China's moral failings as a Communist tyranny, better it should be knitted into the fabric of world community than a rogue elephant raging through the world jungle.

Mr. Jiang's pledge that China is through helping Iran develop nuclear capability allows U.S. firms to compete to build nuclear power plants in China. This might revive an American industry that has built no plant in two decades. It would also allow China to achieve economic growth and improved living standards without adding to the greenhouse effect with more fossil fuel.

In signing a contract to buy 60 Boeing airlin ers for $3 billion, China strengthened the U.S. airframe manufacturer, challenging

it to deliver its swollen orders on time. China announced adherence to the Information Technology Agreement, ending tariffs for high-tech communications equipment. But while President Clinton spoke positively about getting China into the World Trade Organization, he did not automatically assent, wanting more assurance that China's markets are open. Despite the crit icism, Mr. Clinton did not give away the store.

Agreements on process, including a Clinton visit to Beijing and improved government-to- government communications, are all the more important because relations are not normal. Were China a democracy of undoubted peaceful intent, they would be unnecessary. The disputes that Mr. Clinton and Mr. Jiang publicly aired over human rights and dissent were genuine. Like trade, they have their place. Never mind that some U.S. allies have failings similar to China's.

Isolation and boycott never ended Communist power; witness Cuba. Constructive engagement did; witness Hungary and East Germany. Mr. Jiang believes that China can press economic reform without diluting Communist power. Few Westerners agree. But these reforms suffered a blow in the Hong Kong stock market slide, which reduced investment capital for China's modernization.

All the more reason for China to improve relations with one more neighbor, Taiwan, the readiest source of more capital. A reduction of tensions across the Taiwan Strait is in China's interest as much as across the Siberian border and the far Pacific. The work of normalizing China's foreign relations is by no means done.

Pub Date: 11/01/97

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