RIFT DEEPENING BETWEEN US AND CHINA

* Tensions between Beijing and Washington are heightening due to mounting pressure by the United States to block Chinese nuclear testing and Chinese hints of a possible boycott of the 1996 Olympics to be held in Atlanta.

President Clinton renewed special trading privileges for China in June. Yet in recent weeks, longstanding disputes over weapons sales and human rights have flared.

Late last week, the US revealed intelligence information that China is about to conduct its first underground nuclear test in a year. Mr. Clinton urged China not to go ahead with the test, which could prompt the US to lift its own 15-month testing moratorium.

China is not expected to detonate the weapon until after the International Olympic Committee announces Thursday if the 2000 Summer Games will be held in Beijing.

China's Olympic bid is another sore point. The US House of Representatives passed a resolution in July urging rejection of the bid because of China's human rights record.

Last week, He Zhenliang, China's top Olympic official, ruled out a formal boycott of the 1996 Games but suggested that Chinese athletes might bypass the Olympics.

In an apparent effort to quiet international criticism over human rights, China released three political prisoners in the last week. The most prominent, Wei Jingsheng, was reported to be freed Sept. 14, although questions remain over the extent of his freedom.

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