WASHINGTON — President Bush met with Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen today in a move that seemed designed to end Beijing's international isolation since its 1989 military crackdown on a pro-democracy movement.
The meeting followed a day of confusion in which the State Department first announced that the meeting would take place and then denied it, saying only that Secretary of State James A. Baker III would meet Qian.
A senior official said Bush decided on the meeting this morning, despite Washington's disappointment that China had abstained on a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq if it does not withdraw from Kuwait by Jan. 15.
The United States was hoping for Chinese support for the resolution, which was adopted 12 to 2. But China did withhold its veto, allowing the resolution to pass.
Western nations suspended senior official contacts with Beijing and shut off government loans and military cooperation after the army's bloody crackdown around Tian An Men Square in the Chinese capital last year, when hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pro-democracy demonstrators were killed.
But Beijing has slowly been edging back into the international community. At last July's Houston economic summit, Japan said it intended to resume loans to China.
Only a month after the 1989 crackdown, Bush signaled his intention of maintaining a high-level dialogue with China by dispatching National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft on a secret mission to Beijing.
When Scowcroft went there again in December, 1989, the news caused a storm of criticism, with many in Congress accusing Bush of disregarding China's human rights violations.
He also courted criticism by maintaining China's most-favored-nation trading status last summer.
But the decision to meet Qian will be seen as the most powerful signal yet that the United States is ready to welcome China back as a full member of the international community.
A high-level Chinese official, Vice Trade Minister Gu Yongjiang, has also been invited to hold trade talks in the United States on Dec. 10-11 with Commerce Undersecretary J. Michael Farren.