CHINA is digging in for tough talks with the United States over trade and human rights.
Tomorrow, US Secretary of State Warren Christopher arrives in Beijing for four days to confront a Chinese regime worried about its survival and determined to eke out a renewal of its American trading privileges with as few concessions as possible.
Chinese analysts insist Beijing's ruling Communists are in a better position to negotiate because they are convinced the US will not deny extention of most-favored-nation (MFN) trading status in June and undermine US access to China's booming economy.
``The Clinton Administration will renew China's MFN status this year because of the pressure of different interest groups in the US, which have their own vested interest in China's enormous market,'' says a senior Chinese analyst. ``However ... there will be some hard bargains.''
The visit is overshadowed by the recent detention of a number of prominent political dissidents, including Wei Jingsheng, China's most famous pro-democracy activist.
Mr. Wei and several other political activists were detained late last week in anticipation of the annual, two-week session of China's rubber-stamp parliament, which opens today.
They were released but were later whisked out of Beijing to avoid any incidents or meetings with Mr. Christopher.
To China's embarrassment, John Shattuck, the senior US diplomat in charge of human rights, met Wei during his recent Beijing visit.
The roundup, denied by Chinese authorities, reflects official fears of new stirrings of pro-democracy activities in recent months. Dissident sources say demands in the so-called Peace Charter, an underground statement urging greater freedoms that led to several arrests late last year, have been revived.
Another statement calling for greater labor protections, an end to official corruption, freedom of speech and assembly, the right to strike, and assistance for cash-strapped peasants, has circulated recently, some activists say.
To renew China's unrestricted trade, the US has demanded major progress in ending exports produced by prison labor, more freedom of emigration from China, the release or accounting of 235 political prisoners, including some on medical parole, opening up radio and television broadcasting into China, and ending oppression in Tibet.
But Chinese analysts say the parliamentary sessions, which showcase the central government and senior leaders, will discourage any open concessions during the Christopher trip.
Indeed, a second analyst familiar with Chinese policy toward the US questions if ``the Chinese government will ever make concessions to meet fully the requirements of the US.''
A delicate transition
China approaches a delicate political transition after the death of ailing supremo Deng Xiaoping. With no single leader able to command Mr. Deng's authority and the Communist Party's power eroding in the provinces, the Beijing regime is determined to reassert its political control.
That is why several key dissidents, including Chen Ziming and Wang Juntao, are unlikely to win their freedom soon, some Chinese analysts say.
``Although the US government has named them as a top concern, I don't think China would do anything like letting them out on bail,'' says the second analyst.
Still, he expects China to take last-minute steps and ``do something so Clinton can justify his decision to renew the trading status.'' One gesture would be to remove counter-revolutionary crimes, a provision used to imprison many Chinese dissidents, from the penal code.
The move was signaled to Mr. Shattuck during his visit. The Chinese parliament currently has before it legislation to replace counter-revolutionary offenses with laws based on Western legal concepts such as subversion.
At the same time, the US is trying to entice China into a broader relationship that could lead the Clinton administration to end the yearly human rights review and separate trade issues from human rights.
In Australia earlier this week, Christopher said the US was reconsidering sanctions imposed against China last year that blocked Beijing from launching five American-made commercial satellites. The deal was reconsidered after the manufacturer of three satellites, Hughes Aircraft Co., removed sensitive encryption technology.
Christopher is also expected to discuss new steps to upgrade defense ties with China and end years of cold war standoff between the Pentagon and the People's Liberation Army.
The measures include shared peacekeeping operations and regular meetings between top Chinese and US defense officials.