BEIJING, NOV. 9 -- For several days recently, representatives of leading foreign businesses in China shivered in their offices and bundled up in winter coats, waiting for the city to turn on the heat.

The Chinese finally turned the heat valves, bringing a pause to a three-way battle that has pitted tenants against the foreigners who manage Noble Tower, Beijing's new high-rise office building, and the managers against Chinese officials.

The Chinese withheld the heat because the Canadian manager of the 23-story building refused to pay a one-time fee of $458,221 for heating services. The Canadians say there was no provision for the fee in the original contract and that they have already paid for heat and other utilities.

A number of the building's tenants have written to the Chinese authorities objecting that they are caught in the middle of the dispute.

The tenants also complained that the Chinese partner of the Canadian manager is charging them for parking and office cleaning fees that were already covered in their lease. And they said the Chinese partner recently changed the name of the building, creating confusion and extra costs to publicize the new name.

Foreign businessmen seem to agree that the top leaders in this country are sincere in wanting to create conditions to attract more foreign investment. Noble Tower has the potential to dramatize improvements in the business climate here; it houses what one investor described as a Who's Who of leading foreign companies.

But they say Noble Tower shows what can happen when Communist Party officials get involved in business decisions.

As one of Noble Tower's tenants explained it, "Businessmen in this building are getting to watch on a daily basis what a pain in the neck it can be to try to deal with a joint venture in China."

Noble Tower appears to have been jinxed from the start. The foreign partner in the venture, Noble Chong (Asia) Ltd., a Hong Kong company run by real estate developers Reginald J. Noble and Josephine Chong of Toronto, announced several opening dates for the building starting last November, but tenants were unable to move in until this August.

Josephine Chong blamed the delays on tenants who repeatedly changed their minds about how they wanted their offices designed.

Tenants complained that Noble Chong changed the terms of the leases to allow for rent increases.

But the arguments between Noble Chong and tenants pale in comparison to those between Noble Chong and the Chinese partner, the China International Science Center, which is run by the Science and Technology Commission.

Tensions have reached the point where Allan Quah, general manager of Noble Chong (Asia), refers to one of the officials on the Chinese side as "meathead."

Quah said that in addition to the heating problem, the Chinese partner ordered $600,000 worth of electrical equipment that wasn't needed.

Officials on the Chinese side decline to say much, except that they cannot afford to pay the controversial heating fee being demanded by the city government.

"This cost was not anticipated when the contract {with the Canadian partner} was signed," said Ding Chimin, secretary to a vice minister at the Science and Technology Commission.

"We don't want our foreign friends to suffer from the cold," said Ding. "But if the burden of the cost is shifted to the Chinese side, it would be too heavy to bear. This is a very complicated matter. There is another side to the story. We have our complaints, too."

Noble Tower was to be the first in a $40 million complex of four buildings that were to include a hotel, an exhibition hall and a convention center. Noble Chong was to finance the complex, manage the office tower for 12 years, and keep the earnings from the tower for that period.

The Chinese side was to pay for operating expenses at the tower from earnings from the other three facilities in the complex. But Noble Chong said it cannot proceed with construction of the other three because the Chinese side has refused to pay some over-budget costs for the buildings, has brought in an unqualified construction company, and has failed to account for what happened to $6 million that Noble Chong paid for site clearance and public utilities.

Quah, the Noble Chong general manager, said that he was able to work with the original Chinese partner, but when the Science and Technology Commission itself began to take over, relations rapidly deteriorated.

"We never signed a contract with the Science and Technology Commission," Quah said. " ... They don't know how to run an office tower."

Quah accused the commission of being bureaucratic and greedy. "These people don't understand what productivity or money or management is," he said. "They don't understand anything."

He said that during an argument in August over telephone equipment, the Chinese got the impression that he was trying to dupe them and several started yelling and punching him as he tried to escape.

Quah said there were numerous witnesses to the incident, which occurred in the Tower lobby, and that he made a formal complaint to the police but no action has been taken.