Chinese turn to W. Europe for help with modernization

China is waging a diplomatic blitz across Europe this summer in an unusually strong commitment to strengthening political and other ties in the region. Diplomats say that the Chinese see in Western Europe a good economic and political partner for its modernization efforts, one which can offer them both the foreign capital and technology they want and possibly comfort and support in their search for independence from the superpowers.

In the space of less than three months, a senior Chinese leader will have set foot in almost every West European country, as well as in Eastern Europe.

``I find it quite surprising they should concentrate so much attention on Western Europe this summer,'' says one Western diplomat. Another diplomat says that the visits of Chinese leaders to so many countries in such a short space of time was unprecedented.

This burst of diplomatic activity includes a trip by Communist Party General Secretary Hu Yaobang to Britain, West Germany, France, and Italy starting today and going until June 23. It will be followed in July, diplomats say, by a visit by Premier Zhao Ziyang to Romania, Yugoslavia, Greece, Spain, Tunisia, and Turkey. These trips come on the heels of a month-long tour by Foreign Minister Wu Xueqian to seven West European countries, plus East Germany and Hungary, which ended last week.

China's courting of Western Europe highlights the distinction this country is making between ideology and state-to-state relations. China now has better relations with capitalist countries than with socialist countries. In Europe, this includes party-to-party relations with West Germany's Social Democrats as well as with the communist parties of Britain, France, and Italy.

In Eastern Europe, the Chinese have party-to-party relations only with Romania and Yugoslavia, which is virtually beyond Soviet influence.

Several diplomats have said that Peking's offensive is ``mainly political,'' though it includes an important economic agenda aimed at bolstering the country's modernization efforts.

China's leaders have expressed disappointment with the level of foreign investment from the United States and Japan and apparently hope that European businessmen can make up for the slow response from the two economic superpowers.

Vice-Premier Li Peng is scheduled to accompany party leader Hu on the tour of Britain, West Germany, France, and Italy, and Mr. Li's attention will focus on economic matters.

Diplomats say he is also likely to give attention to China's educational exchanges with the ``big four,'' which together are the hosts for more than 4,000 Chinese students, the largest concentration of Chinese students abroad after the US and Japan. In addition to his post as vice-premier, Li is head of the State Commission on Education.

The broad political agenda of these trips include the long-term objective of weakening the grip of the superpowers and encouraging more diplomatic initiatives from Japan, Western Europe, and China, according to a Western diplomat.

``China would like to see a truly multipolar world,'' the diplomat said. ``The accent the Chinese are putting on Europe corresponds with this wish and is a part of their long-term strategy.'' He added that it was also a reaction to President Reagan's policies, which in the Chinese view have tended to define the world chiefly in terms of either East or West.

China says it follows a foreign policy independent of the superpowers, but the country has found it difficult to chart a course that steers clear of US-Soviet rivalry.

In their public statements in Europe, Hu and Zhao are likely to stress some of the same issues Zhao emphasized during his previous trips in the summers of 1984 and 1985: peace, disarmament, and the advertising of China's open-door policy to attract more trade and investment. The leaders are also likely to call for a strong and united Europe as a counterbalance to the superpowers.

This summer there is also fresh concern that the level of international tension is uncomfortably high. In his report to the National People's Congress this year, Zhao described the current international situation as ``turbulent and disturbing.'' He added, however, that China's foreign relations were in the ``best period since the founding of the People's Republic.''

Hu's trip is especially important, since he is the No. 2 leader in China, with the prospect of succeeding senior leader Deng Xiaoping in his roles as head of the advisory commissions for the party and the military. In accord with Chinese protocol, as head of the party, Hu is ranked as China's No. 1 official.

Hu's trip to Europe is being compared by European diplomats to his first trip to an advanced industrial country -- Japan in 1983. That visit was rated a major success and reportedly left a deep impression. This two-week tour will broaden his exposure to the capitalist world and should strengthen his commitment to the open-door policy, diplomats say. It will also enhance Hu's reputation as a party leader and international statesman.

His hosts say they are prepared to make the trip a memorable break from the dreary rounds of bureaucratic politics in Peking.

``We're going to treat him as a head of state,'' a Western European diplomat said. ``He should be very impressed.''

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