MADRID — Secretary of State James A. Baker III announced Sunday that he will visit China later this month, effectively ending one of the last of the American sanctions imposed after the massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators at Tian An Men Square in 1989.
Baker told a press conference marking the end of the Middle East peace conference that China, with almost one-quarter of the world's people, is too big for the United States to continue to ignore, regardless of its dismal human rights record.
"We have some real problems," Baker said of U.S. relations with China. "We can't expect to make headway on these problems unless we discuss them. Ignoring them will not make the problems go away."
He said China has nuclear weapons and "great influence in the region. It has immense economic potential."
Baker expects to be in China Nov. 15-17 as part of a previously scheduled trip to South Korea and Japan. In South Korea he will attend the annual meeting of foreign ministers of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation organization.
China has been pressing the United States to end its ban on high-level visits between the two countries that was imposed after ing the 1989 suppression of the Chinese democracy movement.
Baker had indicated earlier that he wanted China to improve its human rights record, take steps to diminish a troublesome surplus in its bilateral trade with the United States, curb the sales of ballistic missiles to the Third World and stop exporting the products of prison labor.
U.S. officials said Baker also is concerned about reports that China is providing technical assistance to an Iranian nuclear bomb program.
There was no indication that Beijing gave in on any of the issues.
"There is no secret that the Chinese wanted the secretary to come for a year and a half," a State Department official said in Madrid after Baker's announcement. "We have been in their neighborhood twice in the last nine months. This has not gone unnoticed by them."
"Tian An Men Square is not the only issue we talk to China about," the official said. "Economic issues are important to us. They will obviously be addressed by the secretary while he is there."
The official said Baker's Asian trip is part of a renewed emphasis on that region after his near-total preoccupation with the Middle East since the start of the Gulf crisis in August, 1990.
Baker's trip could bring fresh complaints from critics of President Bush's policy toward China, who charge that he has been too lenient toward the hard-line leadership in Beijing. Restrictions on high-level visits were one of the sanctions imposed by Washington after the June, 1989, crackdown, and Baker will be the highest U.S. official to visit since then.
Brent Scowcroft, the President's national security adviser, made two visits to China in 1989 after the crackdown, but those trips were arranged secretly and did not have the same diplomatic symbolism as a formal visit by the secretary of state.
Bush, a former U.S. envoy to Beijing, has been reluctant to cut off all ties with China, because he argues that doing so might hurt reform-minded elements remaining in the leadership. Bush has firmly opposed efforts in Congress to require China to moderate its human rights record in exchange for a continuation of most-favored-nation trade status.
Bush is planning an Asian trip of his own later this fall. Agreeing to a Baker visit this month will reduce the pressure for a more significant stop by the President.