SINGAPORE -- Having caned an American teenager for vandalism, Singapore now wants to close the books on the matter. But the case of Michael Fay refuses to die, raising the prospect of wider repercussions in relations with the United States.

A dispute over the severity of Fay's caning wounds continues to simmer, and officials of the two countries have clashed over an international trade meeting that Singapore wants to host.

In addition, previously routine matters, such as congressional approval of major U.S. arms sales to Singapore and the confirmation of a new American ambassador here, could be held up amid recriminations over the May 5 caning.

"We're going to have a hard time for the next year," a knowledgeable official said. "Things that used to sail through are going to be more difficult."

By reducing the caning sentence from six strokes to four in response to clemency appeals from President Clinton, Singapore seems to have come away with the worst of both worlds. The compromise failed to assauge Clinton or Fay's vociferous family, and it raised complaints from normally docile Singaporeans that the government had buckled under pressure from a big power.

In an apparent reflection of U.S. resentment, Trade Representative Mickey Kantor this week expressed opposition to Singapore's bid to host the first ministerial meeting of the new World Trade Organization when the body convenes next year. He said he believes the meeting "ought to be held somewhere else."

Another potential sticking point, officials said, is congressional authorization for McDonnell-Douglas to sell 18 F/A-18 Hornet strike fighters to Singapore in a package worth an estimated $1.4 billion. A congressional source said it was "too early to say" if the caning furor would affect the approval process, as some officials fear.

An additional test of congressional sentiment is expected to come in confirmation hearings on the appointment of Timothy A. Chorba, a Clinton friend from Georgetown University and a lawyer for Patton, Boggs & Blow, as the new ambassador to Singapore.

Ultimately, analysts said, repercussions over the Fay case may be felt less in what the United States does than in things it does not do: from making high-level visits here to granting privileged access in Washington for Singaporean officials.

"They're not going to have that easy access that they had in the past," one source predicted.

In the U.S. view, the current ill will could easily have been avoided in the five months of quiet diplomacy that preceded the sentencing of Fay in March to four months in jail, a $2,230 fine and caning for spray-painting cars and other offenses.

U.S. officials and Fay's lawyers had tried to get the case classified as mischief to avoid the mandatory caning involved in the more serious charge of vandalism. They believed they had grounds for the reduced charge because the spray paint proved not to be indelible and because far more serious damage to cars -- including pouring paint remover on them, breaking headlights and puncturing tires -- was previously classified as mischief. To date, no Singaporean has ever been caned for vandalizing a private car.

However, Singapore seemed determined to use the case to send a message -- not only to its own youth in view of a spate of unsolved vandalism and graffiti-spraying cases here, but to an America perceived as increasingly infected by social decay.

Although Singapore now says it has been victimized by overblown foreign press coverage of the case, coverage in the government-controlled media here shows it was Singapore that first played up the story.

At one point, the Straits Times newspaper, the government's main mouthpiece, published a large photo of a subway wall with "Super Vandal" spray-painted on it -- graffiti never attributed to Fay. "It is unfortunate for Michael Fay that his case has served as a reminder to Singaporean and foreigner alike how seriously the republic views vandalism," the paper commented. "But that is how deterrence works."

Amid the flap before the caning, however, authorities indicated that the punishment might not be as severe as previously portrayed in accounts aimed at deterring delinquents.

"The caning does not cause 'skin and flesh to fly' as alleged by critics," the Straits Times quoted a Prisons Department spokesman as saying. "It may, however, leave bruises and marks."

That contrasted sharply with a description in the New Paper, a Straits Times sister publication, of a caning slide show seen by teenage gang members during a 1992 prison visit. "Pieces of skin and flesh fly at each stroke," the paper said. "The cane splits after three hits. It leaves the prisoner's skin torn open, exposing bloodied flesh."

Whether this is what happened in Fay's case is not known. Authorities strongly disputed the description by Fay's parents of the caning as torture. Instead, they asserted, Fay told a U.S. consular officer that the punishment was "not as bad" as he had expected.