BEIJING -- Concluding the first high-level visit to China since relations soured over the summer, Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown returned to Washington yesterday, confident he had ** paved the way for better business relations but carrying with him a stark warning to President Clinton.
At a talk yesterday with President Jiang Zemin, who is to meet President Clinton Tuesday in New York, Mr. Brown was bluntly told that the United States must never again allow Taiwan's president to visit the United States.
"Taiwan is a sensitive issue," state radio quoted Mr. Jiang telling Mr. Brown. "China's position is unchangeable. We hope the U.S. can learn a lesson -- and avoid a re-occurrence."
President Clinton's decision to allow Taiwan's president to enter the United States in June to attend a college reunion angered China, which views Taiwan as a renegade province.
China saw the private visit as support for Taiwanese independence and staged a series of military exercises to emphasize its desire to recover the island.
Later in the summer, the United States reaffirmed that Taiwan is part of China. Relations have since improved, but China remains suspicious of U.S. intentions.
Mr. Jiang, according to the official New China News Agency, said China was prepared to sacrifice for its goal of reunification with Taiwan, even if it means hardship.
"We should insist on our right decisions," Mr. Jiang told Mr. Brown, "despite obstructions and even risks."
Also yesterday, the Communist Party newspaper People's Daily quoted comments Mr. Jiang made to executives and journalists from two U.S. media companies.
Mr. Jiang said the United States had broken a promise not to let the Taiwanese president visit the United States, making
Washington's action even harder to accept.
"This is the point the Chinese people have the most difficulty to understand," the newspaper quoted Mr. Jiang as saying.
Throughout his visit, Mr. Brown played down troubles in China-U.S. relations, saying he brought up touchy issues, such as human rights and nuclear proliferation, but only in private talks with Chinese leaders.
He insisted that his policy of "commercial engagement" would help bring the two sides together by binding them with economic ties.
In some ways, this year's China trip seemed like a reprise of last year's, when Mr. Brown also held a series of meetings to pry open China's market and lobby for U.S. business. At the end of that trip, he announced signings of $6.5 billion in new business for U.S. companies.
This year, however, no business deals were signed, as Mr. Brown concentrated on following up on last year's trip.
Most of last year's signings have yet to be approved by China's protectionist bureaucracy.
"We, too, are frustrated by the lack of progress," Mr. Brown told a gathering of business executives in Beijing. "Not a single major private power project has come to fruition in China. Not one."
Mr. Brown said he also lobbied for another $20 billion worth of new deals that have yet to be signed.
He did not elaborate which companies were involved, but most are related to energy or transportation projects that China plans to build.
Another topic was the huge trade gap between China and the United States, which is growing so rapidly that economists believe it may overtake the U.S. gap with Japan in a few years.
$36 billion this year
Last year, according to U.S. figures, the gap was $29.5 billion. It grew 25 percent during the first six months of this year and could top $36 billion this year.
China calculates the figures differently, and the two sides agreed to set up a committee to look at each other's claims.
Mr. Brown said part of the gap was due to the normal difference in the two countries' stages of development.
China, for example, has become a manufacturing power but its people aren't yet wealthy enough to afford many U.S. products.
Even so, Mr. Brown said that some of the trade gap is because U.S. companies are restricted from competing in China due to protectionist or bureaucratic barriers that hinder foreign competitors.
"Obviously we're concerned about the trade deficit," Mr. Brown said at a news conference. "No matter which numbers you look at, it's too high."
Mr. Brown also sought to counter a growing isolationist, anti-China trend in the United States.
Although the relationship is troubled, Mr. Brown said, the U.S.-China relationship is the most important in world today.
"China is part of America's future. America is part of China's future," he said. "That is our destiny."