WHEN CHINESE PRESIDENT Jiang Zemin meets with U.S. President Bill Clinton on Friday, it will be the first meeting between presidents of the two nations after almost five years marred by emotional debate over human rights, arms sales and political systems.
Much is riding on the one-hour meeting in Seattle, where the leaders of 14 nations are gathering for the Asian-Pacific summit meeting under the auspices of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group.
The last time the presidents of China and the United States met formally was in early 1989, before the start of student pro-democracy demonstrations that China violently suppressed, pushing U.S.-Chinese relations into a decline.
Mutual trust reached another low in August when the United States, rejecting private Chinese assurances, tailed a Chinese freighter that it suspected of carrying banned chemicals and forced a search that proved the ship to be clean.
Now, both sides are hoping for a breakthrough in attitudes and a commitment to frequent, high-level contacts.
"Their coming meeting will not be a negotiating session," Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen said in a news conference last week. He instead emphasized intangible achievements, such as better understanding and trust.
But the two sides must move quickly to resolve disputes in trade and arms proliferation, with deadlines nearing and skeptics in both countries demanding proof that friendly engagement is the best approach.
Under an agreement signed last year, China is supposed to dismantle a set of import barriers by Dec. 31. A textile agreement also expires then, and the United States is threatening to impose quotas on Chinese textiles if a new agreement is not reached.
Clinton is under pressure from U.S. companies to ease sanctions imposed in September that restrict high-technology exports to China, including satellites. …