WASHINGTON — The Bush Administration, admitting that its diplomatic moves against China have had no impact and still hoping to preserve ties with Asia's largest power, has decided to take no additional steps in response to Wednesday's political executions, Administration officials said.
"The United States is not contemplating any additional action at this time," Secretary of State James A. Baker III said. "There is an important relationship here which we should seek to preserve if we possibly can."
On Tuesday, President Bush announced that he was cutting off most high-level government contacts with China and ordered action to block China's access to international loans in response to Beijing's crackdown on dissent.
But the executions Wednesday of three prisoners in Shanghai, only hours after world leaders had urged clemency, quickly prompted calls in Congress for new action. Even if China ignores international opinion, "there are times when our ideals must be vindicated," Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Me.) said. "There cannot be business as usual with a government that takes actions like these."
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater conceded that the Chinese government's actions are forcing the Administration into an increasingly difficult position: seeking to preserve relations with a regime that seems indifferent to what the rest of the world thinks.
"We're walking a line there. It's important for Western democracies to speak out," Fitzwater said, although "the weight of world opinion has been heavy on the shoulders of China, and it does not appear to have made much difference.
"History has shown that they (Chinese officials) generally are not responsive to outside kinds of pleas."
The three men executed in public Wednesday had been convicted of setting a train on fire after it had plowed into protesters blocking the rail line, killing six of them, in Shanghai on June 6. A Chinese court denied the men's appeal. Fitzwater and officials of many other governments had issued calls for clemency Tuesday.
The Administration has tried since the Chinese crackdown began June 3-4 to maintain good relations with China. During his press conference two weeks ago, Bush, who served as U.S. envoy to China during the Ford Administration, condemned the attacks on student demonstrators but went out of his way to defend Deng Xiaoping, China's top leader, and the Chinese army. Western observers could not be sure who was really responsible for the massacres of civilians in Beijing, Bush argued.
Since then, Bush has carefully avoided any public statements on China--a policy that he continued Wednesday as he brushed aside reporters' questions on the issue during a White House photo session.
The Administration has also resisted calls in Congress for strong sanctions, such as trade restrictions. The actions that the Administration has taken so far have been largely symbolic, such as canceling a planned trip to China by Commerce Secretary Robert A. Mosbacher.
But the actions of the Chinese government have steadily undermined public support for U.S.-Chinese relations. And Wednesday's decision to go ahead with the executions, coupled with additional death sentences handed down by Chinese courts, appears certain to further undermine support for relations with China in the United States and elsewhere in the West.
"Much that has been built up in the last 10 years could be destroyed," Sen. Patrick R. Leahy (D-Vt.) said Wednesday, repeating a warning that he said he gave to China's ambassador, Han Xu, earlier in the day.
International condemnation of the executions was widespread.
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said she was "utterly appalled" and that "the punishment is totally out of proportion to the crime."
French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas called the action "atrocious."
"The totalitarian machine, in all its horror, is rolling," Dumas said. "It turns what should be judicial decisions into veritable murders."
The French Parliament observed a moment of silence in memory of those who died.
West German government spokesman Hans Klein said the killings mean "a dangerous fallback to the times of people-despising totalitarianism."
Spanish Foreign Minister Francisco Fernandez Ordonez called the executions "another episode of the brutality with which they are acting . . . of repression and savage purges." European Community leaders will consider more actions during a summit meeting Monday in Madrid, he said.
U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar was "very saddened" by the executions and has appealed for clemency for other prisoners, according to his spokeswoman, Nadia Younes.
Prime Minister Brian Mulroney of Canada said, "I think it's a most deplorable situation . . . a most regrettable turn of events."
But policy-makers said it is unclear whether there is much that Western nations can do to influence events in China.
There are several available options. Western allies could refuse to sell high-technology goods to China, subjecting the country to the same controls currently applied to the Soviet Union and most of Eastern Europe.
The U.S. government could revoke China's "most favored nation" trade status, a legal status that exempts Chinese goods from certain import duties and other controls.
China also could be subjected to some sort of trade embargo, similar to the embargo on wheat exports to the Soviet Union that President Jimmy Carter ordered after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December, 1979.