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Talks May Set Stage for Clinton to Visit China


WASHINGTON — President Clinton welcomed Qian Qichen, China's foreign minister, to the White House on Monday and other U.S. officials met with Chinese counterparts in what appeared to be a broad effort to clear the way for a possible Clinton visit to Beijing next year.

A China sojourn by the President--complete with pictures of Clinton shaking hands with leaders like hard-line Premier Li Peng--would be the capstone to China's largely successful five-year effort to regain international legitimacy after the brutal 1989 Tian An Men Square crackdown.

Over the last few weeks, the Chinese press and Chinese officials have been floating the idea that Clinton may visit China.

On Monday, soon after Qian met with Secretary of State Warren Christopher, he raised the issue, the secretary said. U.S. officials have denied the President will visit this year but have not ruled out the possibility of a trip next year.

Shortly after Clinton's one-hour meeting with Qian, the White House issued a statement saying China and the United States had made significant progress "in some areas" over the last year. But the statement said "the President expressed disappointment" about the lack of progress on human rights.

Earlier, Qian, who is also a vice premier, told reporters that relations between the United States and China are at a "critical" juncture, suggesting the ties could get much better or much worse.

For their part, Clinton Administration officials seem to be trying to use the possibility of a presidential visit as leverage to extract policy changes from China on a series of issues, including arms proliferation, trade and human rights.

There were signs late Monday that Chinese and American officials are moving to resolve a long-running dispute over China's sales of M-11 missile parts to Pakistan. China has refused to discuss the sales, which seem to violate the international regime on missile technology, unless the United States explains the George Bush Administration's decision to sell American F-16 warplanes to Taiwan.

A senior U.S. official said there had been "some progress."

Shen Guofang, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, told a news conference Monday that Christopher "did not mention" the case of Wei Jingsheng, China's best-known proponent of democracy, who was imprisoned last spring.

A U.S. official insisted that Wei's case had been brought up in Christopher's meetings with Qian.

Chinese Vice Justice Minister Zhang Geng was quoted today as saying that Wei will be shown around China's boom regions "to see the progress of the motherland." His release from jail depends on his behavior, Hong Kong newspapers quoted Zhang as saying.

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