U.S. placing more priority on business with China


BEIJING -- The United States, facing intense competition in the booming China market, wants commercial interests to take a much higher profile in Sino-American relations.

To reinforce the new American emphasis on making money here, U.S. Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown will arrive with about 25 top U.S. business executives late next month for a three-city tour.

But there's still a full plate of unresolved trade problems that could cause plenty of political friction between the United States and China.

These issues include: U.S. threats of economic sanctions because of rampant Chinese copyright violations; the rapidly growing U.S. trade deficit with China; and China's charges that the United States is blocking its entry into the world trade venue through the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

Nevertheless, the Clinton administration is committed to ensuring that "long-term commercial considerations will be at the center of our relations with China," Jeffrey E. Garten, the U.S. undersecretary of commerce for international trade, said here yesterday.

The U.S. trade deficit with China last year reached $23 billion, up from $71 million a decade ago. This deficit has increased threefold in just the past four years.

"The trade deficit with China is going to loom as a larger and larger issue,"Mr. Garten said. "We've got to be able to export more -- not just to China, but to the entire Asian region."

To reduce America's mounting trade deficit with China, Commerce Department agencies will aggressively match favorable trade-financing deals that are being offered by European nations and Japan, Mr. Garten said.

China right now is a "battleground for firms from all over the world," he said, with competition "like nowhere else."

The administration has long vowed to pay more attention to U.S. economic interests abroad. In regard to China, the president in May signaled this new priority when he renewed its favorable U.S. trade status despite its limited progress on human rights. He said then that the United States would no longer link China's trade status with political questions.

Mr. Brown will be the highest-ranking American official to visit China since President Clinton's decision in May to renew China's most-favored-nation (MFN) status.

His visit would be a "presidential mission," representing the entire administration and aimed at setting "the tone for the post MFN-era," Mr. Garten said.

With the "MFN constraint removed" and a forecast of continued high growth here for at least the next decade, Mr. Garten said, the prospects for expanding economic ties between the U.S. and China are "very promising."

He said the new U.S. emphasis on business interests here would not displace other key American interests in China, including regional security and human rights concerns.

Not surprisingly, Chinese officials are expressing high hopes for Mr. Brown's visit, with a high-ranking trade official here last weekend calling it "an important event in Sino-U.S. relations" and indicating that a raft of new business deals likely would be sealed.

The United States particularly foresees vast commercial opportunities here as China expands and upgrades its energy, transportation, telecommunications and environmental protection sectors. To help attract this business, the United States will sponsor a major conference on China's infrastructure in Washington this fall.

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