Bill and Jiang's Great Leap Forward

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After years of false starts, Bill Clinton and Jiang Zemin have clasped hands and jumped. Beijing and Washington announced an historic trade agreement Monday, in which China agreed to open up its economy in exchange for membership in the World Trade Organization. For Clinton, the deal means going head-to-head with a hostile Congress, whose enmity toward Beijing over alleged nuclear spying will amplify protectionist sentiments in the legislature. Congressional approval is required because implementing the deal depends on the House of Representatives' dropping legislation requiring annual approval of China's Most Favored Nation trade status. But with the U.S. business community solidly behind the deal, the White House may be counting on pressure from the GOP's donors to spur the Republican leadership to rein in legislators opposed to the deal. That won't be easy in a year in which the concerns of the folks back in the district are paramount in the minds of congressmen.

Clinton's challenge looks easy, though, compared with the one faced by his Chinese counterparts. "WTO membership will open China up to competition, which will mean a number of industries that survive only through state subsidies and heavy tariffs are bound to collapse," says TIME Beijing bureau chief Jaime Florcruz. "And that will increase structural unemployment." The more hard-line elements in China's leadership have slowed economic reforms precisely out of fear that the inevitable unemployment will spark social chaos. So by signing on to the WTO deal, Jiang has come down firmly on the side of the reformists — and created a powerful crowbar with which Premier Zhu Rongji can prize open the economy and ensure its long-term growth despite the short-term pain. After 13 years of negotiations, the U.S. and China have finally agreed on a comprehensive set of rules to govern their increasingly interwoven economic relationship. But selling that deal won't be plain sailing for the politicians on either side of the Pacific.