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Monday, April 5, 1999 Published at 15:00 GMT 16:00 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

China goes on US charm offensive

Mr Zhu's engaging personality could win the hearts of America

By Chinese Affairs Analyst James Miles

A visit by Chinese prime minister to Los Angeles on Tuesday will mark the first official visit to the United States by a Chinese head of government in 15 years.

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  • Zhu Rongji's trip comes at a time of renewed tension between the two countries, caused by disputes over a wide range of issues from human rights to trade.

    But if ever in the decade since the crushing of the Tiananmen Square protests there was a Chinese leader capable of winning hearts and minds in America, it is Mr Zhu.

    It was President Jiang Zemin whose landmark visit to the United States in 1997 marked the resumption of top-level dialogue between the two countries after Tiananmen.

    But it is the quick-witted, business-savvy Mr Zhu who is far more likely to impress the American public.

    [ image: Mr Zhu with US Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky: WTO hopes]
    Mr Zhu with US Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky: WTO hopes
    The problem for Mr Zhu and the Chinese leadership, however, is that it will take far more than the prime minister's engaging personality to restore stability to this increasingly troubled relationship.

    Goodwill dissipating

    In theory, President Clinton's trip to China last June should have set the seal on the restoration of normal ties, post-Tiananmen.

    But the goodwill generated by that visit has largely dissipated amid a blizzard of sharp exchanges in recent weeks over human rights, Taiwan, allegations of Chinese spying and trade.

    These disputes have highlighted the enormous difficulties faced by the two countries in their efforts to define their post-Cold War relationship.

    [ image: The Clinton visit to Beijing should have sealed the friendship]
    The Clinton visit to Beijing should have sealed the friendship
    Once drawn together by their shared emnity toward the Soviet Union, China and the United States are now struggling to find areas of common interest.

    Since the Soviet Union's collapse, Washington's justification for maintaining close ties with Beijing has often been expressed in terms that suggest distrust.

    It has warned of the need to persuade China not to allow the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and not to abuse human rights.

    From Beijing's perspective, Washington has become more of a potential threat by selling advanced jet fighters to Taiwan and even, three years ago, moving aircraft carrier battle groups close to the island as a warning to the mainland.

    Human rights

    Clinton on China
    Despite continuing talk of their desire to establish what they call a strategic partnership, China and the United States are now facing one of the biggest crises in their relationship since Tiananmen.

    Mr Zhu may have hoped that his visit to the United States would focus mainly on economic issues and be crowned by a hoped-for deal on China's accession to the World Trade Organisation.

    Instead, it will be dogged by political disputes.

    Anti-China sentiment has grown rapidly among American politicians in recent weeks, as allegations have emerged that China stole American nuclear secrets.

    There have also been claims that it has been boosting its deployment of missiles on the coast facing Taiwan, and intensifying its crackdown on dissent.

    On the same day that details of Mr Zhu's trip were announced, Washington said it would move a resolution in the United Nations criticising China's human rights record.

    Even if the flurry of negotiations over China's WTO bid in advance of Mr Zhu's trip demonstrated the continuing eagerness of both sides for economic co-operation, neither side is likely to be in a mood for grand concessions on other issues during the prime minister's visit.

    'Anti-China wave'

    Mr Zhu will certainly reiterate his government's strong denunciation of American suggestions that it might include Taiwan in its proposed Theatre Missile Defence system.

    He will also reject any calls for political liberalisation in China and repeat his government's objections to the Nato bombing of Yugoslavia.

    Mr Zhu has acknowledged that he expects to encounter some unfriendly, hostile attitudes amid what he has called the current "anti-China wave" in America.

    In the current diplomatic climate, one of the best outcomes the two sides can hope for is that Mr Zhu's visit will not make the atmosphere any worse.

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