The Bush Administration, in a surprise gesture designed to placate Beijing, announced Tuesday that it will ease restrictions on U.S. and other Western high-technology exports to China--part of a continuing liberalization in this field.
U.S. officials insisted that the announcement was unrelated to the dispute during President Bush’s trip to China last weekend, when Bush angered Chinese leaders by inviting dissident Fang Lizhi to a banquet. One strategist said the trade move had been “in the pipeline” for weeks.
Nevertheless, its timing was designed to mollify China’s leadership after the flap over Fang’s invitation, which the Beijing government protested. Chinese officials kept Fang from attending the banquet.
“Of course, we welcome this,” said Wu Zurong, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington. “But we don’t have the specific text.”
The changes announced Tuesday by the Commerce Department were not dramatic, allowing U.S. exporters to ship higher technology products in 13 separate categories, ranging from telecommunications equipment to chemicals and power generators.
They also will permit American producers of high-technology goods to make multiple shipments under a single export license without obtaining a new license for each sale, as had been the case.
Other countries in the 16-member Coordinating Committee on Multilateral Export Controls, which oversees exports of strategic goods from the West to Communist Bloc countries, are expected to follow similar procedures.
The United States has the most stringent rules.
Undersecretary of Commerce Paul Freedenberg said the revisions are designed to trim administrative delays and give American producers better access to Chinese markets. Trade between the two countries increased to $14 billion in 1988, up 35% from 1987 levels.
Tuesday’s move was part of a continuous--if occasionally faltering--relaxation of U.S. curbs on key exports to China. It has occurred since 1983 in line with Beijing’s political thaw and increased economic ties with the West.
Washington interrupted the process in October, 1987, in retaliation for Beijing’s sale of Silkworm missiles to Iran, which used the arms against the Sea Isle City, a Kuwaiti tanker reflagged as American that was heavily damaged in an encounter in the Persian Gulf.
But the Administration resumed its liberalization effort five months later after receiving assurances that China would act to prevent Silkworms from reaching Iran. U.S. officials have never made clear what those steps might entail.
Although Bush’s behavior angered the Chinese, it was mild by American standards. Despite his gesture in inviting Fang to the Beijing banquet, Bush never raised the human rights issue directly in talks with Chinese leaders.
On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater defended Bush’s handling of the issue in China, insisting the President “did bring up human rights in any number of ways. The invitation (to Fang and four other Chinese dissidents) was eloquent to anyone who cared to listen.” He added that Bush attended a Christian church service--another symbolic gesture--and mentioned human rights in his toast the first night in Beijing.
Besides telecommunications equipment, chemicals and power generators, products covered by Tuesday’s liberalization include electronics, industrial and transportation equipment, metalloids, petroleum products and metal-working machinery.
Separately, the Administration issued a special 11-page report to Congress outlining its trade policy agenda for 1988, vowing to push for progress in the current round of global trade liberalization talks and to use the new trade act to win access to more foreign markets.