U.S. Expands Trade Relations With Beijing


Ignoring a new controversy over human rights violations in China and unresolved questions about trade practices there, the Clinton Administration agreed Monday to expand trade and investment talks.

Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown, escorting 24 executives of some of the United States’ largest corporations on a six-day visit to China, signed an agreement in Beijing intended to boost U.S.-Chinese cooperation in such key economic areas as telecommunications, chemicals, electric power, aviation, electronics, airport infrastructure and automotive machinery. The accord also provides for talks aimed at establishing an improved long-term commercial relationship.

The agreement, which Foreign Trade Minister Wu Yi signed for the Chinese government, would also facilitate the exchange of information and expertise on legal matters and management training.

But even as the officials were expanding the scope of U.S. ties with China, Brown was given a dressing-down by his counterpart Wu, who demanded concessions for China’s multibillion-dollar textile industry and U.S. help in bringing China into the world trading system.


Despite China’s criticism of the United States, the Administration has made a great effort to keep relations with China on an even keel. It has limited any criticism of human rights violations to private meetings, and in a business-as-usual approach, has sought to boost U.S. commercial contact with China, one of the most powerful emerging markets in the world.

“Nothing is going to get in the way of trade. Foreign policy has moved over to the Commerce Department,” said Orville Schell, a China scholar and author of several volumes on developments in China. “The Chinese have triumphed. They’ve won everything they want. They can have the secretary of commerce come over and then they stick a finger in his eye.”

Unless President Clinton sets the Administration’s policy on China on an unambiguous course, which would make clear whether it will oppose human rights violations and exact a price for them, Schell said, Clinton’s “various minions don’t know what to do except keep selling.”

Asked about China’s human rights violations and the Brown mission, White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers said: “The President made clear that he would continue to take steps to pursue improvement of those human rights while also pursuing an economic relationship, which we think will help open that country to the West and to information that will help move them forward.” She spoke to reporters in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., where Clinton is spending his summer vacation.


The most recent human rights problems surfaced as Brown arrived in Beijing on Saturday, on the highest-level official U.S. visit to China since Clinton renewed China’s sought-after most-favored-nation trade status in May, which effectively separated human rights concerns from trade issues.

In a new crackdown on dissidents, authorities placed a number of people under surveillance and detained for 12 hours Wang Dan, a leader of the 1989 democracy protest in Tian An Men Square.

While such detentions are often timed to prevent private meetings between senior Western officials and dissidents, they also serve as public reminders of China’s willingness to embarrass high-level visitors by silencing the government’s critics.

On the trade front, Wu presented Brown with two demands, Reuters reported in Beijing.


Wu told the commerce secretary that China would abandon previous trade commitments if it is blocked from joining the new World Trade Organization. The United States has said that China is not ready to join the trade group and must first provide greater protection of intellectual property rights, bring down barriers to international trade and make its trade regulations clearer to foreign companies and countries.

Wu also said China would “take some counter-retaliatory strike” unless the United States eases its restrictions on Chinese textile sales by the end of September.

The textile dispute stems from an agreement reached in January. It was intended to crack down on China’s practice of circumventing quotas on its shipments to the United States by using third countries to mask their Chinese origin.

With $25 billion in Chinese projects at stake in coming years, according to Brown, his mission this week is to line up as much work as possible for U.S. companies. Administration officials argue that successful commercial ties between the United States and China will bring the sort of economic progress in China that would lead to greater democracy--and help bring down China’s $23-billion trade surplus with the United States.


“We are not ideological or philosophical about this. We are relentlessly pragmatic, bottom-line oriented,” Brown said.

Corporate executives who accompanied Brown included officials of Chrysler, Sprint, Tandem computers, Westinghouse and Pitney Bowes. The executives said they expected to sign deals while in China.

On Monday, Westinghouse signed a $140-million contract to provide equipment for the Jiangsu Ligang Electric Power Co., and Pitney Bowes signed a $20-million agreement to automate post offices in China.