Japan and China are set to announce a bilateral agreement on China's bid to join the World Trade Organization after Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi meets with his counterpart, Zhu Rongji, here tomorrow, a Japanese official said.
A Japanese diplomat who arrived in Beijing today with Obuchi said a formal agreement will be signed during the one-day summit, and an official at China's Ministry of Foreign Trade said the two countries "reached agreements in most fields, and both sides are satisfied with the results."
Observers called the announcement of the largely ceremonial deal an effort to add shine to what promises to be a lackluster summit between the two Asian powers. Japan wants China to pressure North Korea to halt further missile tests, but China appears reluctant to discuss the matter, Asian diplomats said. China, on the other hand, is still smarting from Japan's unwillingness at their last summit in November to issue a written apology to the Chinese people for Japanese aggression during World War II.
Recent reports in South Korea said that North Korea was building an underground missile facility 12 miles from its border with China. U.S. officials also have said that Pyongyang is preparing to launch a follow-up to its threatening missile test near Japan last August. A Japanese official said Obuchi would specifically raise both issues with China. Asked, however, why China did not appear eager to participate, he said: "That's a good question."
Sources familiar with the WTO deal said Japanese negotiators had backed away from many of their demands that China open its markets to foreigners -- especially in the key areas of telecommunications, marketing and transportation -- in order to reach some type of agreement with China.
"Mr. Obuchi has to get some fruits from this visit to China," said one Japanese analyst. "He ordered his staff to step down from the negotiations and make the agreement. . . . It's a face-making deal for Mr. Obuchi."
Although Japan is one of China's most important trading partners, the expected bilateral agreement between Tokyo and Beijing is more symbolic than substantive. China still needs the blessing of the United States and the European Union to enter the WTO, the Geneva-based body that regulates international commerce. China's membership in the WTO would lower Chinese trade barriers and help make its economy conform to global trade rules, which could stimulate growth by making the economy more open and attractive to foreign investors.
China's WTO negotiations with the West have been stalled since NATO bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade on May 7. China pulled out of the talks and its trade minister, Shi Guangsheng, has repeatedly said that discussions will not resume until the bombing issue is resolved. Beijing has publicly rejected the U.S. explanation that the bombing was an accident.
Chinese negotiators have stepped back from some of the commitments to reduce trade barriers they made during Zhu's trip to Washington in April. Some Chinese critics have said Zhu offered too much. Japanese officials hoped the agreement during the summit would "keep the momentum" for China's entry, the Japanese analyst said.
CAPTION: Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi is saluted by a Chinese soldier upon his arrival in Beijing.