China announced yesterday that it had been invited by the United States to send a high-level trade official to Washington, signaling an easing of the sanctions against China just as U.S. officials are lobbying for China's vote in the United Nations Security Council to authorize the use of force against Iraq.
In an announcement in Beijing, China said its vice minister for trade, Gu Yongjiang, had been invited to meet with Commerce Undersecretary for International Trade J. Michael Farren to discuss economic issues from Dec. 10-14. Gu would be one of the most senior Chinese government officials to come to the United States since President Bush ordered an end to high-level exchanges with China following the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators.
While the United States has had other high-level contacts with Chinese government officials, they generally have been limited to issues such as Cambodia and the Persian Gulf crisis. In July, six Chinese mayors, including Zhu Rongji of Shanghai, toured the United States.
China is one of the five permanent members of the Security Council -- giving it veto power over proposed resolutions -- and has been a prime target of the Bush administration's lobbying for a resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq. The resolution is expected to come to a vote this week. Although Chinese officials have not said how China intends to vote, they have suggested that it would not veto a resolution. China voted for the previous 10 Security Council resolutions seeking to force Iraq from Kuwait.
Separately, a U.S. Embassy spokesman in Beijing, Sheridan W. Bell, said China had notified the United States that it would send Foreign Minister Qian Qichen to the United Nations to cast China's vote, the Associated Press reported. Officials in Washington said they could not confirm the report. Secretary of State James A. Baker III met Qian earlier this month in Cairo and spoke with him by telephone recently about the gulf crisis.
Diplomatic sources said that China has expressed strong interest in ending the economic sanctions imposed by the United States after nationwide protests were crushed by authorities in June 1989. Sanctions imposed by Bush have resulted, in part, in a slowdown of foreign investment in China. One of the sanctions, still in effect, was to suspend any coverage in China by the Overseas Private Investment Corp., which underwrites insurance for American investors.
These sources said that China finds it ironic that the United States is seeking to persuade it to support economic sanctions against Iraq while keeping sanctions in place against China. Chinese diplomats have repeatedly told U.S. officials they would like to restore normal economic relations with Washington. Japan and some West European countries have resumed lending and investment in China, which also recently normalized diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia.
When Bush announced on June 20 last year that he was suspending high-level exchanges with Beijing, one of the major casualties was a series of planned trade and economic missions by Commerce Secretary Robert A. Mosbacher and Treasury Secretary Nicholas F. Brady. Those efforts have not been resumed, and a ban on high-level military exchanges also remains in effect.
However, there have been other high-level contacts with China, such as Baker's meeting with Qian and two visits to China in 1989 by national security adviser Brent Scowcroft.
Other sanctions that remain in effect include: sharply reduced World Bank lending to China; a ban on military exchanges; and suspension of defense exports, except for a small amount of material on the munitions list that are strictly for civilian use, such as bank teller machines, officials said.