THE third-ranking diplomat for the United States plans Sunday to begin a mission to China to reverse the slide in Sino-US relations. Robert Kimmitt, undersecretary of state, is expected to warn Beijing of a mounting movement in the US Congress to rescind tariff exemptions enabling China to sell several billion dollars of goods on the US market.
Some members of Congress in recent weeks have intensified their criticism of China over its human rights abuses, alleged unfair trade practices, and reported sales of missiles and nuclear equipment abroad.
Lawmakers from both sides of Congress have called on President Bush either to revoke China's ``most favored nation'' (MFN) trade status or make it contingent on an improved human rights record.
The president must make his decision by June 3.
``The one sure lever Kimmitt carries to Beijing is MFN,'' a Western diplomat said, on condition of anonymity. ``The threat of revocation means that China's leaders should at least listen to him.''
Beijing depends on its trade surplus with the US to help repay a high foreign debt and cope with a severe fiscal deficit. Tens of thousands of Chinese would lose their jobs in coastal exporting factories if China's goods were denied low tariffs on the US market, foreign economists say.
Relations between the US and China have hit rough waters in the past several weeks.
US Trade Representative Carla Hills last Friday threatened to impose retaliatory tariffs against China unless it provides trademark and copyright protection for US goods and intellectual property. Washington will decide after a six-month investigation whether to impose sanctions. In China, losses in royalties for US companies amount to hundreds of millions of dollars every year, US trade officials say.
Washington has criticized Beijing for allegedly erecting barriers to imports which contributed last year to a $10.4 billion deficit in US trade with China. The deficit is expected to reach more than $15 billion this year.
China plans to send an import-buying mission to the US late this month in an apparent effort to undercut the movement to revoke its MFN status. The delegation will shop for US technology as part of China's plan to import up to $4 billion more in such goods each year, according to the Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations and Trade.
SINO-US relations recently were further strained by allegations that China is using forced prison labor to make goods for export to the US and other countries.
The issue has apparently unified advocates in the US of punitive policies toward China in the otherwise unrelated areas of trade and human rights.
Many members of Congress are concerned that Beijing has not eased its repressive controls since the suppression of peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989. They point to the trials this winter of scores of dissidents and the pervasive, heavily armed police force stationed in Tibet.
More recently, US officials have expressed concern over Beijing's sale of nuclear technology to Algeria and its alleged plans to sell ballistic missiles to Pakistan and Syria.
China's Foreign Ministry asserts the 15-megawatt, heavy water nuclear reactor China is providing Algeria is only for peaceful purposes, according to an official press report on Wednesday (See story, Page 6.)
The two countries agreed on the deal in 1983, and any claims that the ``very small'' reactor could be used to make nuclear weapons are ``totally groundless,'' the China Daily reported, quoting a ministry spokesman.