BEIJING, OCT. 28 -- Former president Richard Nixon arrived in Beijing today on a mission aimed at reversing the recent deterioration in U.S.-China relations that has followed the government's suppression of the student-led democracy movement. Nixon will meet with top Chinese leaders during this trip, his sixth here since his first momentous journey in 1972. At that time, both the American and Chinese sides, after decades of hostility, were full of hope for a new relationship. Sino-American ties developed steadily over the following 17 years until the Chinese army killed hundreds of demonstrators in its crushing of the democracy movement in early June. Since then, the Bush administration has limited high-level exchanges of official visitors with China. Nixon is on an unofficial visit to Beijing, but he reportedly consulted closely with President Bush and with National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft before he undertook his first China trip in four years. It is understood that the former president is carrying a message from Bush. Foreign Minister Qian Qichen hosted a banquet for Nixon tonight and praised the former president for his "political foresight and courage" in visiting China again. "The present difficulties in Sino-American relations are not what we would like to see, nor what we have created," said Qian, according to an official New China News Agency report. The news agency quoted Nixon as saying that he is a "friend of China" and that U.S.-China ties are "essential" and should be "strengthened." Nixon, 76, is highly respected in China because of the role he played in initiating the process of normalization of relations and in helping China to break out of its international isolation in the early 1970s. Today, the Chinese government faces a degree of externally imposed isolation as the international community distances itself from China in the wake of the Beijing massacre of demonstrators. Some U.S. congressmen, including Rep. Stephen Solarz (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House foreign affairs subcommittee on Asia, have criticized the Bush administration for backing the Nixon trip, saying it will encourage the Chinese to believe they can go back to business as usual with the United States without an improvement in the human rights situation here. Nixon is expected to discuss with Chinese leaders the impact their suppression of the democracy movement had in the United States. "Nixon's in a position to tell the Chinese what's really going on in the United States," said a Western diplomat, adding that the Chinese will listen carefully to Nixon because they hold him in high regard. The United States, with other Western nations and Japan, imposed limited sanctions -- including a ban on deliveries of military equipment -- on China following the June army assault. Bush has been reluctant to broaden the sanctions, fearing that such a step would damage what administration officials describe as an important "geostrategic relationship" with China. Nixon is expected to say in meetings with the Chinese that it is in the interests of both countries to preserve the U.S.-China relationship, but that recent hard-line Chinese actions and statements have created a strongly negative impact in the United States. He is also expected to make clear that the Chinese will no longer be able to use the threat of improved Sino-Soviet relations as a means of pressuring the United States into being more accommodating with Beijing. It was the fear of Soviet military power and expansionism that brought the United States and China together in 1972, but the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow has diminished that fear in the United States. The United States and the Soviet Union are improving their relationship and the Soviets do not appear to be attempting to benefit from the current strain in Sino-American relations. But Chinese leaders continue to think in terms of a strategic triangular relationship among China, the United States and the Soviet Union, as evidenced by an account of a closed meeting that top leader Deng Xiaoping held with other leaders in mid-June. According to a well-informed Chinese source, Deng told the others that China has become a major player in this relationship because it made itself strong through socialism. Nixon is expected to meet with Deng, Communist Party chief Jiang Zemin, Premier Li Peng and other officials. Nixon's schedule has not yet been disclosed, but he is likely to stay in Beijing for about six days. It is believed that Nixon was reluctant to meet with Li, the most unpopular of the Chinese leaders and the official most closely associated by many Chinese with the May imposition of martial law and the June military crackdown. But the Chinese apparently insisted that if Nixon was to visit Beijing, he would have to meet Li. A page of background notes released today by an aide to Nixon said the former president is solely on a "fact-finding trip" to China and will give his assessment of Chinese leaders, their policies and Chinese-American relations in writing to Bush upon his return. Perhaps mindful of the sort of criticism Ronald Reagan encountered during his just completed, highly paid visit to Japan, Nixon made clear in the background notes released by his aide that he has no business clients in China and will be paying his own travel expenses. Nixon voluntarily gave up his Secret Service protection five years ago and is traveling with only one security aide, whom he pays personally, the notes said.