China Approaching WTO At a Bad Time

  • Share
  • Read Later
WASHINGTON: China is making all the right moves at the negotiating table in an effort to gain entry into the World Trade Organization in time for Prime Minister Zhu Rongji's arrival in the United States next week. It has offered, for example, to remove barriers in long-restricted sectors such as telecommunications, agriculture and banking that have kept foreign firms from operating in China's fast-growing markets. But in Beijing on Monday, Commerce Secretary William Daley dampened expectations that a deal could be reached before Zhu's arrival in Washington next Wednesday. "It's important that China come into the WTO, and sooner rather than later," Daley said. "But I think to put a date of a summit visit as the most important [thing], I think that may not be realistic."

Hardball negotiating tactics? More likely an acknowledgment that Congress, which would need to approve China's membership in the organization, is not exactly enamored of the world's next superpower these days. A congressional report on China's possible theft of U.S. nuclear secrets at Los Alamos -- which China has staunchly denied -- will be released in time to coincide with Zhu's visit. In addition, Beijing's ongoing crackdown on dissidents has made President Clinton's sometimes plaintive "engagement" China policy a popular target for Republicans. Not that they're wrong to be suspicious, especially about the WTO; judging from the current U.S. "banana war" with Europe, which the WTO has shown little ability to police, China's membership in the organization could just give Beijing and Washington more things to fight about.