A `New Beginning' With US

China's leaders are relieved at the softer US tone, its youth a bit less enthusiastic about America

AS China's President Jiang Zemin was declaring a ``new beginning'' in relations with the United States at a conference of Asian-Pacific leaders, Beijing was also congratulating itself for muting American criticism on human rights.

At the Nov. 19 summit in Seattle, Mr. Jiang answered President Clinton's questions on human rights with a stern lecture about staying out of Chinese affairs.

Jiang also played to American economic worries by visiting the aviation giant Boeing, one of a number of large US companies looking to China for its future economic growth.

``The meeting was conducted in a friendly and frank atmosphere,'' said an editorial Nov. 22 in People's Daily, the Communist Party newspaper. ``During the meeting, both sides emphasized their extensive mutual interests and are willing to have their eyes on the future so as to develop their interests and expand the points they hold in common from a broader angle,'' the paper said.

The meeting of the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Seattle also reassured Chinese analysts that the US president does not want to isolate China over human rights. Next summer, Mr. Clinton must decide whether to renew China's most- favored-nation trading status, which he has tied to progress on human rights.

Clinton also recently approved the sale of a supercomputer to Beijing in a step that Chinese analysts say could pave the way for more technology transfers to China. Washington has hinted it could lift trade sanctions on the sales of satellites and some other technology if Beijing agrees to limit weapons exports in the future. The sanctions were imposed this fall for alleged Chinese missile sales to Pakistan.

Chinese analysts are relieved that the US softened its tone toward Beijing in the run-up to the summit and appears to have backed away from the hard negotiating tactics it used previously. ``Clinton wants to revive economic growth in the US, so he can't afford to ignore the Chinese market,'' says a Chinese political observer.

Still, Chinese and Western analysts expect Beijing could take more steps to satisfy US human rights demands before next June, including the freeing of more political prisoners. This year, during Beijing's unsuccessful bid to host the 2000 Olympics, several prominent dissidents were freed, including the best known democracy activist, Wei Jingsheng.

China also has begun discussions with the International Committee of the Red Cross on allowing visits to jails holding political prisoners. Just before the Seattle summit, China offered to open its prisons for international scrutiny, a gesture enthusiastically applauded by US officials.

Still, China deeply resents America's public badgering on human rights abuses, a position that wins sympathy with Chinese. If China does make concessions, it will make them so as not to appear as if Beijing is giving in to US demands.

``Why does the US take this position on human rights?'' asked a Beijing college student at the time of the Seattle meeting. ``Doesn't Clinton know that he should not interfere in China's internal affairs?''

Indeed, some analysts suggest that attitudes toward the US are shifting after what appeared to be overbearing American posturing in recent months. US opposition to Beijing's Olympic campaign and unsubstantiated American charges that China was exporting chemical weapons to Iran rankled many officials and some intellectuals.

A new television serial, ``A Beijinger in New York,'' gives a largely negative depiction of the life of a Chinese emigre in the US and has won much popularity. ``Chinese youths are no longer as enthusiastic about the US as they once were,'' says a Chinese analyst.

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