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Aides Downplay Summit Goals

In summit diplomacy, as in politics, the safe strategy is to keep expectations in check - the lower the threshold for success, the easier to claim it.

So the administration is advertising President Clinton's China policy in general, without promising specific results at his Beijing summit.

"It surely will be a successful one," said Li Zhaoxing, the Chinese ambassador to Washington. China wanted the summit now, and for Beijing, the symbolism of the 9-day journey represents success in itself. reports on President Clinton's trip to China
"There will be a lot of good initiatives coming out of this," said Bill Richardson, the United Nations ambassador. "I don't want to preview it."

That's not the game plan.

"I'm not trying to raise expectations, I don't think that would be wise," said Commerce Secretary Richard Daley, warning that the U.S. trade deficit with China is climbing steeply, and that there is little prospect of deal-making that would reverse that.

Given the circumstances surrounding the trip Clinton that begins on June 25, caution makes sense. Congress is investigating satellite launching deals critics contend led to the leaking of rocket technology to China at the expense of U.S. security, in a case involving a big-money Democratic donor.

There's still the unsettled issue of alleged illegal Chinese donations to the party, and the permanent debate about human rights abuses. The House voted against any more U.S. satellite launches and against a Clinton appearance in Tiananmen Square for his formal welcome to China.

Never has a president headed for a summit with that kind of baggage.

Or with more inhibitions against the kind of agreements the Chinese want most, for eased access and increased trade in U.S. technology.

Clinton's policy is engagement, based on the judgment that contact at the top and down the diplomatic, economic and military ladder is the way to influence China toward American objectives.

Richardson said the Democratic administration didn't discover the policy but inherited it from Republicans, notably George Bush, and "we've enhanced it."

Not to the taste of Republican critics.

"The Chinese don't understand just getting carrots," Sen. Trent Lott, the Senate majority leader, said. "You have to have some sticks and some carrots. We've not had that."

He couldn't point to any readily available sticks. One would be denial of the trading status Clinton has just renewed, as presidents do annually. That stirs annual debates about human rights and other issues, but there aren't the votes to block it even if Congress really tried.

Lott said last week he's woried that the Chinese are outmaneuvering Clinton in the arrangements for the summit, and that the president won't be firm enough in raising U.S. concerns about human rights, arms sales and other issues.

"On instance after instance, the Chinese have been trying to dictate everything that happens," Lott said. "And I think that it is being set up to be a real problem for the United States."

Inaccurate, the White House retorted, offering to brief the GOP leader if he wants to know what's really going on.

At a China policy forum sponsored by Transamerica Corp., Richardson and Daley said the engagement policy is producing results. The commerce secretary acknowledged that there's "still a badly lopsided relationship" in trade because of Chinese obstacles to U.S. exports and business. Daley also said that a major increase in the trade deficit would stir a political backlash the Chinese government should want to avoid.

There's already a political backlash against the welcoming ceremony in Tiananmen Square on June 27, where pro-democracy demonstrations were crushed nine years ago. Clinton said he's less concerned with the symbolism of the scene than with the substance of human rights concerns he said he'll raise.

"President Clinton will not mince words," said Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. "We want to see an improvement in the Chinese human rights policy."

Li, the ambassador, said they'll talk about it. He also said that food is the essential human right and China puts that first.

Written By Walter R. Mears

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