Clinton and Jiang confer in attempt to ease tensions

U.S. and Chinese officials to discuss WTO admission for world's largest nation

September 12, 1999|By CHICAGO TRIBUNE

AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- President Clinton met with Chinese President Jiang Zemin yesterday in hopes of ending a period of unusual hostility between the two nations.

Clinton is in New Zealand for the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, ostensibly to tackle trade issues.

But the visit has been dominated by other matters, from China's relationship with the United States to the militia violence in East Timor.

As a result of a one-hour Clinton-Jiang meeting, U.S. and Chinese representatives are to begin discussions as early as today aimed at bringing China into the World Trade Organization by the end of the year, in effect integrating the world's largest nation into the global economic system.

American officials were quick to portray the session between the two leaders -- which covered everything from China-Taiwan tensions to the status of various nuclear treaties -- as a breakthrough and an effective end to an extremely rocky period between the United States and China.

"I would describe it as a very productive, friendly, nonpolemical and quite comprehensive meeting between the two leaders," said National Security Adviser Samuel R. Berger.

"As a result, I would consider the relationship between our two countries back on track," Berger said.

Notably, the U.S. bombing of the Chinese Embassy in May during the campaign in Kosovo -- which the U.S. has said repeatedly was a mistake but which outraged the Chinese -- was mentioned only once in passing. Another issue that has dogged U.S.-China relations, espionage allegations against the Chinese, did not come up.

The United States and China are emerging from a rough period that included the embassy bombing and allegations that China was stealing nuclear secrets and illegally contributing to Democratic Party campaigns.

Both Jiang and Clinton want China to join the World Trade Organization. WTO members work for open markets, pledge to abide by certain rules, and sign on to a mechanism for resolving trade disputes.

The issue of China's membership derives some urgency from the fact that the group is meeting in November in Seattle to kick off the next round of negotiations on the global trade treaty known as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, or GATT.

Many members of Congress oppose normalizing trade with China because of its human-rights record. Clinton's national economic adviser, Gene Sperling, said Clinton is prepared to fight on the issue.

Jiang told Clinton that the most important issue on the table was the current flare-up between China and Taiwan. Clinton repeated to Jiang that if China uses military force against Taiwan, there would be grave consequences in the United States, U.S. officials said.

The Clinton administration has repeatedly refused to say what "grave consequences" means.

Jiang, in the account of U.S. officials, responded, "You know, I am not someone who likes war, but 1.2 billion Chinese people are concerned about what has happened in Taiwan, and I believe it is very important to resolve the issue."

The two leaders also discussed the various nuclear treaties pending between them, stability in the Korean peninsula, and human rights and environmental issues.

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