THE Bush administration broke its ban on contact with top Chinese officials in an effort to halt Beijing's descent into diplomatic isolation, analysts say. National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft visited Beijing last weekend, marking the first meeting of a top United States official with Chinese leaders since the massacre of liberal protesters last June. In the weeks before Mr. Scowcroft's one-day visit, Beijing has grown increasingly defensive over the crumbling of communist regimes in Eastern Europe and persistent international outrage over its Tiananmen Square crackdown.
Western and Asian diplomats and other analysts have expressed concern that China's leaders will slam the door on foreign contact after apparently concluding that exposure to outside liberal values imperils their rule.
A conciliatory gesture like the Scowcroft visit could help pragmatic Chinese officials champion a renewal of Sino-US relations against their hard-line, ideologically minded counterparts, the diplomats say.
``Washington wants to keep lines open and encourage Beijing toward moderation, but also avoid an appearance of complicity in China's crackdown,'' a Western diplomat said, on condition of anonymity.
Scowcroft noted that groups in both countries have tried to frustrate Sino-US cooperation. ``We both must take bold measures to overcome these negative forces,'' he said in an address Saturday.
China's embattled view of Washington runs to the top level of its leadership. Many leaders have said the US is a chief force in a conspiracy to instill a ``peaceful evolution'' in China from one-party socialism to multiparty capitalism.
Senior leader Deng Xiaoping has accused the US of involvement in the nationwide protests for political reform and basic freedoms last spring.
For its part, the US has imposed trade and credit sanctions against China, and strongly denounced its abuse of basic human rights. Last month the US Congress legislated many sanctions against China imposed by President Bush in June, including a ban on arms sales and a bar to further liberalization of export controls.
The White House said it made an exception to the ban on high-level contacts and dispatched Scowcroft and Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger merely to brief Beijing on the summit in Malta. Yet both Scowcroft and his hosts used the meetings to emphasize their desire to lift Sino-US relations from its lowest point since diplomatic ties were restored in 1979.
The two sides did not publicly say how they intend to solve a range of difficult issues, including the harboring of dissident Fang Lizhi in the US Embassy and restrictions on foreign loans to Beijing. China faces the peak repayment period on its foreign debt early next decade.