Secretary of State Warren Christopher's meetings in Beijing this week have laid the groundwork for a summit in Manila between the Chinese and American presidents that is expected to further a rapprochement between the world's present and potential superpowers.
Senior US and Chinese officials put a positive spin on talks, and each side predicted that the Nov. 24 meeting between President Jiang Zemin and President Clinton could help build a more stable and wide-ranging relationship.
Sino-US ties had sharply deteriorated for much of Mr. Clinton's first term, with Washington's angry accusations of Chinese human rights violations and Beijing's fury over seemingly growing support for Taiwan's independence dominating the entire relationship. Chinese officials, who routinely characterize the Taiwan question as the most important issue in bilateral ties, seem to hope that Clinton will have more flexibility in conducting foreign policy following his reelection.
China, which views itself as a rising power on the international stage, has also lashed out at what it sees as US attempts to contain its growing influence in the world.
Yet increasing calls of alarm that the disagreements could trigger a more long-lasting and dangerous conflict have apparently caused leaders on both sides of the Pacific to move to restore more cooperative US-China bonds.
Washington plans to broaden its engagement with Beijing across a spectrum of issues, State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said yesterday. Both Chinese and American officials cited progress in joint efforts to fight cross-border crime, peaceful nuclear cooperation, and some aspects of nonproliferation.
The Chinese leadership, however, warned that continued American sales of sophisticated weapons to Taiwan like F-16 fighter jets jeopardized continued progress in Sino-US ties.
"The question of Taiwan is the core issue in the Sino-US relationship," said Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen. Mr. Qian, who is widely regarded as one of the most sophisticated and cosmopolitan figures in the Chinese leadership, added that failure to resolve the issue of the proliferation of American weaponry in Taiwan would disrupt overall bilateral ties.
Beijing regards Taiwan as a renegade province whose continued separation from the mainland is fostered in part by US military support. Analysts in both countries have warned that tensions over the future of Taiwan could spark a second cold war. China has repeatedly voiced repeated concerns that the US, through its weapons sales to Taiwan and stepped-up security arrangements with Japan, aims to build an Asia-wide wall to block Beijing.
IN another area of dispute, Mr Burns indicated that the US is moving to adopt a less confrontational stance on China's human rights policies. Beijing regards its treatment of political dissidents as a matter of state sovereignty and bristles at any public criticism. But Mr. Clinton is likely to raise some human rights issues during his meeting with President Jiang on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Manila, he added.
A senior American official who spoke on condition of anonymity said that Christopher made clear to Chinese officials that it was "not possible to develop healthy relations without discussions on human rights," and added that the Chinese side had shown a willingness to engage in a dialog on the topic.
US officials say that the broad aim of Washington's policies was not to contain China, but to help integrate it into the global community. "China is a country that is growing in every way," said Burns, who added that Washington viewed its ties with Beijing as among the most important in the world.
US officials have come to a consensus that China's dynamic growth and rapid changes have made it important to engage its leadership on every level. To that end, they said, the US hopes to step up high-level contacts.
Christopher said that Jiang and Clinton intended to set out a schedule for an exchange of state visits over the next two years, and added that Foreign Minister Qian would be invited to Washington soon to meet the revamped US administration. "I think both sides hope to resolve their major differences soon and put the relationship back on an even keel," said Cui Tiankai, a Chinese foreign minister spokesman. "Both China and the US are going to be important shapers of the 21st century, and together we can create a more stable situation for not only Asia, but the world."