Chinese and U.S. trade negotiators may resume talks on China's entry into the World Trade Organization before a presidential summit next month in New Zealand, according to a senior U.S. diplomat and a Chinese expert.
Both sides are also holding out faint hope that a deal on China's entry into the Geneva-based body could be signed when President Clinton and his Chinese counterpart, Jiang Zemin, meet on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting, to be held Sept. 7 to 13 in Auckland.
Stanley Roth, U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said in a speech in Australia today that the United States and China have communicated a "real desire" to make the September meeting a success.
"Obviously we hope that this meeting can be the occasion for significant progress on WTO--the ideal outcome to reach an agreement at that time or before, but at a minimum to use the meeting to get the negotiations restarted on an urgent basis."
China and the United States nearly reached an agreement in April after Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji offered sharp reductions in China's trade barriers during a summit in Washington. Fearing that the Chinese package might not be good enough to gain congressional approval, the Clinton administration balked at the deal.
China then suspended the talks after NATO's bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade on May 7. The Chinese government has publicly rejected the United States explanation that the bombing was an accident caused by a string of intelligence errors and said that the United States must take further "concrete" steps before WTO talks could resume.
But a series of recent signals by Beijing suggest that the WTO talks could be restarted without those outstanding issues being fully resolved.
A Chinese government foreign policy adviser said today that China's leaders want to see movement on WTO and that they may push aside their post-bombing demands to get it.
He added that soon after the embassy bombing, Chinese leaders decided that they still wanted to enter the WTO, despite their anti-American rhetoric. They hope the organization's requirements for liberalized trade will help reform China's monopoly industries, make China's sluggish economy more efficient in the long run and undermine corrupt government tariff collectors and smugglers.
"What they waited for was the timing. I think at the moment, it's a suitable time to resume the negotiations," he said. "The Chinese side will try to get the conclusion during the summit."