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Clinton to meet key Asian leaders Talks aim to stabilize relations with China, soothe South Korea


MANILA, Philippines -- President Clinton arrived in a steamy Manila yesterday with some difficult business to transact today with the leaders of the coming superpower, China, and a sometimes difficult ally, South Korea.

As he arrived, his Cabinet secretaries for foreign and trade policy were pressing toward an agreement to reduce tariffs radically on information technologies so important to the United States and the booming Asian Pacific region that is having its fourth economic forum here.

The 18-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, known as APEC, which includes such diverse members as Australia, China, the United States, Mexico, Hong Kong and even Taiwan, represents two-thirds of all U.S. global trade and 50 percent of the world's gross domestic product.

The yearly APEC meetings, since Clinton raised them to summit level in 1993, are a kind of economic and diplomatic convention. The bilateral meetings between leaders and ministers are considered more important than the continuing and voluntary effort to remove all obstacles to free trade among members by 2010 for industrialized countries, and by 2020 for Third World ones.

The most drama here is expected to come from Clinton's meeting this morning with Chinese President Jiang Zemin. The meeting should mark the restoration of relatively stable relations after three years of conflict and confusion over Taiwan, human rights, trade, copyright, nuclear and missile proliferation and other disputes.

After the groundwork laid by Secretary of State Warren Christopher last week in Beijing, the two leaders are expected to announce a series of higher-level meetings, beginning with Vice President Al Gore going to China in the first part of next year, with Jiang going to the United States on a long-delayed state visit, possibly before the handover of Hong Kong back to China in July but probably afterward. If all goes well, Clinton would visit China in 1998.

But their meeting will probably be dominated by the continuing conflicts.

Clinton will repeat the United States' eagerness for China to join the World Trade Organization, but only if it moves much more vigorously to open its markets.

Everyone realizes a transforming China needs some indulgence in order to join the trade organization, but the United States wants China to understand that its membership must be based on economic realities, not simply political clout.

Clinton will also meet Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, to reassure him that closer ties to China are not at Japan's expense.

But he will have to work hard to reassure South Korean President Kim Young Sam, whom he also meets today, that the United States, as it has declared many times, supports South Korea in its rage over North Korea's recent submarine incursion.

South Korea demands an unlikely North Korean apology before continuing with the U.S.-brokered deal to replace North Korea's military-related nuclear plants, which were producing weapons-grade materiel, with less dangerous South Korean ones.

The Americans, who are anxious to have the North Korean nuclear deal succeed, have said they expect a gesture of contrition from North Korea, but South Korea continues to demand more, while wanting further reassurance from Clinton about the permanence of the U.S. commitment to defend South Korea.

The U.S. economic push this year is on freeing up trade in information technologies, and APEC foreign and trade ministers agreed over the last two days to try to reach a global deal to phase out nearly all tariffs on computers, software, memory chips and telecommunications equipment by 2000.

Such trade represents $500 billion a year today, and should reach $800 billion by 2000.

There are disagreements among the countries here, especially from Malaysia and China, about how many protections to retain for certain forms of technology and for how long.

Pub Date: 11/24/96

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