China Raps (Again) at WTO Door ; This Week's Reenergized Talks on WTO Entry Raises Optimism That Chinacan Play by Others' Rules

Article excerpt

Six months after Chinese protesters angrily stoned the US Embassy here in reaction to NATO's bombing of Beijing's diplomatic outpost in Belgrade, the American building was again besieged.

But this time, the grounds were surrounded by camera crews waiting for word on whether the two Pacific Rim titans had reached an agreement on China's joining the World Trade Organization.

A high-powered team of US negotiators, led by White House economic adviser Gene Sperling and US Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky, talked through the night Wednesday and was expected to delay a scheduled morning departure today to try to clinch a deal.

Although the US delegation - which includes leaders from the National Security Council, Treasury, State, and Commerce Departments - has released few details of a final WTO pact, both sides have been upbeat and optimistic.

Foreign Trade Minister Shi Guangsheng was quoted in the official China Daily as saying "China is holding out strong hopes for entering the WTO." Mr. Shi, featured shaking hands with Mr. Sperling in a huge, front-page photo, added he expected significant advances during this week's talks.

China's entry into WTO would not only force the last communist giant to follow global trade rules, but would also put ties between the world's sole superpower and its fastest rising economic force back on an even keel.

Within the next decades, "China could overtake the US as the world's largest economy, and it's in Americans' best interests to forge a deal now that will guide China's behavior on the global stage," says a Western official who asked not to be identified.

Frosty relations since May bombing

Trade talks, along with Sino-US ties on other fronts, were suspended following NATO's May 7 bombing, but President Clinton laid the groundwork to restart negotiations with Chinese leader Jiang Zemin during the recent APEC meeting in New Zealand.

The Western official says that reaching a pact on Beijing's accession to WTO, which makes international trade rules and provides a forum to resolve disputes, would boost overall relations and help end the acrimony that surrounds an annual US congressional debate on granting China normal trade ties.

President Nixon's first trip to China "started a thaw in Sino-US ties and began opening China to the rest of the world," he says."China's joining WTO would be another great step toward integrating Beijing with the world, and that will benefit the US."

A Western economist based in Beijing, who has high-level contacts within the Chinese government, says that "integrating China into a rules-based system will lessen people's primordial fears of China as a security threat in Asia and in the world."

During a state visit to the US last April, Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji offered a wide-ranging package of market-opening measures that would reduce import tariffs and allow much greater foreign investment in such services as banking, telecommunications, and Internet firms here.

Clinton backed away from the proposal, but he and several of his top advisers have since come to regret the move, says the Western official. …

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