Calling President Clinton "my good friend," President Jiang Zemin flashed another sign today that China is eager for better ties with Washington after months of wrangling and recrimination.
In advance of a mini-summit Saturday in New Zealand before the start of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, Jiang also signaled that Beijing would continue talks with the United States on China's entry into the World Trade Organization, another indication of improving ties. Jiang also sidestepped a question about the bombing of China's embassy in Belgrade by NATO warplanes on May 7, an indication that China wants to let that issue fade.
But Jiang, speaking during a trip to Australia, seemed also to hint that China is in no mood to make major trade concessions to the United States. "The American system [of government] is really complicated; the Congress is very powerful," Jiang told reporters, "so I think the prospect of the WTO question will be to a large extent dependent on the American side."
The U.S.-China relationship has been in a tailspin for the past year, after allegations surfaced in Washington of Chinese espionage and a plot by Beijing to subvert the American political system.
For its part, China was enraged by a discussion in the United States about possible creation of an antimissile shield in East Asia, continued arms sales to Taiwan and, finally, the embassy bombing, which left three Chinese dead.
Over the past week, other events have underscored a "re-normalization" of ties. On Tuesday, China accepted the U.S. candidate for ambassador to Beijing, retired Adm. Joseph W. Prueher, the former commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific. Today, for the first time since the Belgrade bombing, China allowed a U.S. Navy vessel to call at Hong Kong. It refused, however, to allow a U.S. Navy P-3 maritime patrol craft to land at the Hong Kong airport.
[And in Auckland, New Zealand, Thursday morning, wire services reported that Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan had a "cordial" meeting in which they discussed, among other issues, North Korea, Taiwan and human rights.]
Chinese and U.S. officials stressed that bilateral ties are still very fragile. There is little trust between Beijing and Washington, the officials said, and a breakdown of the WTO negotiations could have a chilling effect on other areas of mutual concern.
Today, the U.S. Embassy here said that U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky would continue WTO discussions with China on the fringes of the summit in New Zealand. U.S. Assistant Trade Representative Robert Cassidy left Beijing today after several days of meetings designed to restart formal WTO negotiations, one of the casualties of the NATO bombing.