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