BEIJING -- China, which has watched the rollback of communism in Eastern Europe with disdain, has decided not to shut out those former allies who have abandoned Marxism, according to foreign analysts.
While still fearful that the movement that swept Eastern Europe in late 1989 could help reinvigorate Chinese democratic forces crushed by the army, Beijing has made the policy decision in part to forestall those countries from becoming too friendly with its wealthy arch-rival, Taiwan.
As a result, Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen will travel this week to Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria during an official European tour that also will include Portugal and Spain. A key purpose of his trip, the first Chinese ministerial-level diplomatic mission to Europe since the June 1989 army massacre of democracy demonstrators in Beijing, will be to offset political and economic gains made by Taipei.
China still maintains state-to-state relations with all of the countries in Eastern Europe. But with the end of Communist rule in most of the countries, the "big official love" is gone, said one East European diplomat. One sign of this is that since the democratic revolutions, trade between East European countries and China has plummeted at least 30 to 50 percent, according to Chinese estimates.
Foreign diplomats said that Chinese leaders, who have pursued economic reforms but refused to allow political liberalization, are probably pleased that the new East European democracies are encountering difficulties. The state-controlled Chinese press is full of reports about unemployment, high crime and inflation that have followed the political changes in Eastern Europe.
During a trip to the Philippines last fall, Premier Li Peng spoke of the "dramatic and profound" changes in Eastern Europe and asked: "But what have those changes brought about for the people in Eastern Europe? Bread or happiness?"
While China still harbors hope that the more authoritarian regimes in Eastern Europe, such as Romania and Albania, will remain firm allies, it has no such illusions about Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, which have all publicly criticized China's human-rights record.
Chinese leaders dislike Czechoslovak President Vaclev Havel and Polish President Lech Walesa for ideological reasons but want to maintain good state-to-state relations at a time when these countries are turning increasingly to Taiwan for help in economic restructuring even though they have not established formal diplomatic relations with Taipei, East European diplomats said.
At Hungary's national exposition last fall, Taiwan was an exhibitor and flew the Republic of China flag. In December, Olga Havel, the Czechoslovak president's wife, traveled to Taipei, and although she was representing a charity, she was received by Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui and Premier Hao Pei-tsun. The visit set off strong protests by Beijing.
The Chinese leadership also was angered by Polish President Lech Walesa, who at one point decided to accept Taiwan's invitation to visit this year and was quoted as telling a Taiwanese legislator that the proposed establishment of Taiwanese-Polish relations had reached "a countdown by seconds."
On Jan. 17, however, Walesa changed his mind and decided against the visit, telling the Chinese ambassador to Poland that Warsaw would continue to recognize a "one China" policy. He "expressed his willingness to upgrade relations with China," with particular emphasis on economic ties, the official New China News Agency reported.
Qian's trip follows recent visits to China by top officials from Albania and Romania. Foreign Minister Reis Malile's five-day visit to Beijing in January made him the highest-ranking Albanian to visit China since 1978, when Albania criticized China's opening to the West.
China's most intense courtship, however, has been with Romania, a close and longtime ally of the Communist leadership here. Romanian President Ion Iliescu came to Beijing in mid-January, the first such visit by an East European head of state since the 1989 upheavals, and was warmly welcomed by Premier Li and other officials.
Beijing was shocked by the December 1989 ouster and execution of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who had maintained a hard-line rule for more than two decades.
"You would have thought with the bloody killings and revolution in Romania, that Romania would be in the doghouse" with the Chinese, said a Western diplomat. "But the Romanian government has proven to be a good friend for China. It has not criticized China's human rights."
Unlike Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, where the state sector of the economy is being transformed and communism discarded, Romania is still largely state-controlled, maintains a conservative foreign policy and, therefore, is "considered more reliable by the Chinese," another Western diplomat said.
Moreover, Romania's use of vigilante coalminers to suppress demonstrations last year in Bucharest may have struck a chord with Chinese authorities, who ordered heavily armed troops to crush the spring 1989 democracy movement here, killing hundreds of people, diplomats said.
In his talks with Iliescu, Li described Chinese-Romanian relations as "very good" and "not affected by changing situations," according to the official Chinese news agency. Despite China's own enormous budget deficits, Beijing gave a rare extension of credit -- a $19.2 million commercial loan -- to Iliescu, who is facing political opposition and worsening economic conditions at home.
At a press conference, Iliescu expressed concern about the political crackdown underway at the time in the Soviet republic of Lithuania, but declined to criticize China's suppression of demonstrators.
"We don't consider that anybody can give lessons in democracy to another country without knowing actually the internal conditions in that country," he said. He also said "the democratic movement and the process of democracy in China" were not "in any way hindered by the stiffening of the authorities."