China's foreign minister, Qian Qichen, plans to make an official visit to Washington Friday for "comprehensive" talks with Secretary of State James A. Baker III on Sino-American relations after the United Nations Security Council vote on Iraq, the State Department announced yesterday.
The planned visit represents another U.S. gesture toward normalization of relations with China, a permanent member of the Security Council with veto power over U.N. resolutions. Qian would be the highest-ranking Chinese official received in Washington since the crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in June 1989, which prompted the United States and other Western countries to impose sanctions against China.
There have been continuing reports of Chinese efforts to suppress internal dissent. However, U.S. officials said the invitation to Qian is part of a strategy to ensure China's support in the Security Council by offering symbolic overtures to the Beijing leadership. On Monday, China announced that its vice trade minister had been invited to Washington for trade discussions.
The United States has been pressing Security Council members for a resolution to authorize the use of force against Iraq, and a vote is expected Thursday. Administration officials want to avoid a veto by China, which supported earlier Security Council measures against Iraq. Qian and other foreign ministers are gathering in New York for the vote.
China has been eager to end its economic isolation and sanctions imposed by the West following the bloody repression of the pro-democracy movement, and diplomatic sources said the Qian visit is seen by the Chinese leadership as a major gesture toward improved relations with Washington. Although Qian has met with Baker four times -- in France, at the United Nations and in Egypt -- this is the first time he has been invited to Washington since the crackdown.
Japan and European nations have eased their economic sanctions against China, but the United States has only gradually lifted them, and some restrictions remain. Bush, who advocated keeping lines of communication open with Beijing after the crackdown, said at the economic summit in Houston last July that China had not improved its human rights record sufficiently for sanctions to be relaxed.
There have been reports of fresh efforts by China in recent weeks to suppress internal dissent, and administration officials said Baker, in the meeting Friday, will raise the human rights issue anew. Two leaders of the pro-democracy demonstrations have recently been charged with sedition.
While U.S. officials have praised China's "responsible and principled actions" in the Persian Gulf crisis and its efforts to end the Cambodian civil war, an official said Baker intends to tell Qian that full restoration of Sino-American relations depends on more progress on human rights.
Deputy State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Qian was invited to Washington for "a comprehensive review" of "our common interests in advancing a range of global and regional issues" including the Cambodia conflict, as well as for an "in-depth" discussion of bilateral issues. Boucher said this approach was "consistent" with the approach of Japan and the European Community, both of which have moved to resume economic ties to China.
Bush imposed the sanctions under pressure from Congress after the 1989 crackdown. They included suspension of two high-level trade and economic missions to Beijing and a ban on high-level exchanges generally. A number of defense exports were suspended, Chinese students in the United States were offered extended stays, and U.S.-backed insurance for private firms doing business in China was suspended.
Bush has since relaxed some of the sanctions; for example, he permitted China to launch U.S.-built communications satellites for third countries. With the assent of the United States, the World Bank has resumed limited lending to China for humanitarian needs. And Bush's top advisers have gone to China or met Chinese officials in other countries.
But other restrictions against China remain in place. World Bank lending is a fraction of what it once was, and regular high-level U.S.-Chinese exchanges have not resumed.
China has denounced the sanctions as interference in its internal affairs and, for both symbolic and practical reasons, has sought to eliminate them and reestablish its stature in the international community.