THE respite that followed American renewal of China's special trading privileges in June is over. Once again, the United States is stepping up pressure on China over weapons sales abroad and human rights abuses at home.
On Tuesday, the US said it planned to impose trade sanctions on Beijing for selling missiles to Pakistan. The disclosure in Washington signals a tougher American action to curb China's booming arms trade. China, which refuses to disclose details of its arms sales and did not respond immediately, has in the past branded the charges "sheer fabrication."
The warning coincides with new American pressure on human rights abuses before next month's decision on whether Beijing will host the 2000 Summer Olympics.
In recent weeks, US congressional critics and international human rights organizations have called for denying China its desperately sought-after Olympic prize because arrests of dissidents and other human rights abuses continue.
Earlier this year, before President Bill Clinton renewed China's most-favored-nation trading privileges and when Beijing was campaigning intensely to win the Olympic bid, China's rulers released several dissidents to buff its international image.
But this summer, as Beijing appeared to be running second to Sydney in the Olympic contest, China took some harsh steps to quell dissent. Most prominent was the deportation and passport cancellation of leading labor activist Han Dongfang, who had been in the US for medical treatment.
China also has faced criticism from international human rights organizations for the continued imprisonment and mistreatment of dissident Liu Gang, the last of the 21 most-wanted students jailed after the military crushed political demonstrations.
N Sept. 23, the International Olympic Committee will award the turn-of-the-century Olympics to one of six contending cities, including Beijing; Sydney; Berlin, Germany; Manchester, England; Istanbul; and Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
Congressional lobbying against Beijing, and a letter campaign to influence Olympic committee members, is resented by China and Olympic officials, who say site selection is not political.
"Granting China the Olympics will encourage the economic reforms here and help resolve some of the problems," an Asian diplomat says.
In recent weeks, Beijing has hosted more than 20 American senators and congressmen visiting China and holding high-level talks with Chinese officials.
Next month, John Shattuck, US assistant secretary of state for human rights, is expected to visit China to monitor progress on issues crucial to renewal of Beijing's trade status next year. He will present a six-month report to Congress on China's actions to address the grievances.
In June, Clinton extended the most-favored-nation trading status for another year, with renewal contingent on improvement in China's poor human rights record, the end of high technology weapons sales to countries such as Syria and Iran, a decline in China's huge trade surplus with the US, and an end to the export of prison-made goods.
Currently, the US is accusing China of exporting chemical weapons materials to Iran and is blocking a Chinese ship in the Persian Gulf. Beijing has denied the ship is carrying chemical weapons.