WASHINGTON — President Bush, criticizing China's "official" version of how the military crushed the pro-democracy movement in Beijing, declared Wednesday that it will be "very difficult" to continue the kind of existing economic relationship that the United States has with China unless the government's oppressive ways are changed.
The President suggested that China's current aim in recalling most of its ambassadors from around the world is to promote the government line that troops courageously curbed a rebellion without killing students in the confrontation earlier this month in Tian An Men Square.
It is a version that Deng Xiao-ping and other Chinese leaders have worked assiduously to sell to their own people and to foreign journalists. But Bush said that he "can't imagine anybody gives great credibility to that (official version), given what people have seen with their own eyes."
The troops' assault on demonstrating students in the square and in other areas of Beijing was covered extensively by television, and numerous Chinese citizens have given eyewitness accounts of the bloody encounter.
Bush, during a 30-minute interview with The Times that covered a broad range of foreign and domestic issues, also said that, because the Soviet Union is "doing better" in permitting unrestrained emigration of Jews, he may temporarily lift the Jackson-Vanik restrictions on trade with the Soviets.
Last month, Bush said that he would consider a temporary waiver of the restrictions only if the Soviets pass and implement a law providing for unrestrained emigration. But with the Soviets permitting much freer emigration under President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, pressure to lift the ban earlier has mounted.
Acknowledging that even Jewish groups that had opposed lifting the ban now favor a waiver of the 1974 Jackson-Vanik Amendment, Bush said that "perhaps" he would decide to grant a temporary waiver without insisting on passage of a Soviet law as a condition.
The fact that China still does not face Jackson-Vanik trade restrictions, despite new emigration restrictions imposed in its crackdown on dissidents, has put Bush under additional pressure to lift restrictions on the Soviet Union.
The Administration certified China as meeting the Jackson-Vanik requirements in May when Chinese emigration policies were relatively unrestrained, according to Richard Boucher, a State Department spokesman. Boucher said there will not be another review of China's policies until next May, despite current policies restricting emigration there.
Bush, concerned about long-range national interests and China's strategic importance to the United States, has moved cautiously in imposing sanctions on China and has resisted pressure to impose tougher measures. But he insisted that his reaction to China's crushing of the pro-democracy movement has been based on "moral outrage."
Asked if it is not inconsistent to impose trade sanctions on the Soviet Union while China remains free of the curbs, the President said: "They're different situations and different countries."
However, indicating that he may feel compelled eventually to invoke the Jackson-Vanik restrictions, he added: "It's going to be very difficult to continue some existing relationship with China unless I am satisfied that there is change. So I'm just going to look at it as we go along here."
China's recalling of its foreign ambassadors has been linked by Western diplomats to the government's crushing of the pro-democracy movement. Although Chinese officials have refused to confirm the link, the President said that he thinks there is a link and that the recall is not an indication that China is turning inward.
Not Sign of Withdrawal
"I don't think it's a symbol of withdrawal into the inner kingdom," he said. "I think it is . . . probably an informational meeting or something of that nature."
Bush, along with leaders of many other nations, has criticized China for the military assault, which Chinese witnesses and Western intelligence sources say resulted in a death toll possibly as high as 3,000. And he has imposed limited sanctions on China--discontinuing military cooperation, limiting diplomatic contacts to lower-level officials and voting against and lobbying against loans to China by international organizations.
While the President so far has been able to resist continuing pressure to impose harsher measures on China, he and his top foreign affairs aides are known to be deeply disturbed about prospects that the House will pass a pending bill that would provide much stronger measures.
The bill, backed by a coalition of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans, would impose a freeze on exports of high-technology to China, ban nuclear cooperation provided by an earlier agreement and impose a broad range of other economic sanctions.