One of Chinese Premier Zhu Rongjiís goals while in the U.S. in early April was to seal an agreement with the Clinton Administration on the terms of Chinaís entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO). For months preceding the trip, negotiators on both sides painstakingly examined contentious areas that included access to Chinaís financial services, agriculture, and textiles industries. While the U.S. has stated its support for Chinaís entry, it has made clear that the terms of entry would be based solely on commercial considerations.
Just prior to his visit, several American newspapers and commentators speculated as to whether Zhu would proceed amidst allegations of Chinese espionage. The chairman of a House of Representatives committee charged with investigating allegations of improper technology transfer and espionage, Christopher Cox (R-CA), announced that he would release the report on the eve of Zhuís arrival. Some Members of Congress publicly expressed their opposition to reaching an agreement as a matter of principle. In this contentious atmosphere, both governments sought to minimize expectations.
After a brief stop in Los Angeles, Zhu arrived in the nationís capital and had a three-hour summit meeting with President Clinton. Although they were unable to bridge all gaps, the two leaders issued a press release stating that they had made significant progress on market access and protocol issues. Among those signed, the Agreement on U.S.-China Agricultural Cooperation substantially lowered tariff barriers on three key U.S. exports: citrus, grain, and meat. Another breakthrough was the elimination of auto and auto parts tariffs.
After the press release, critics said the administration jeopardized U.S. interests by not reaching an accession agreement during the visit which far exceeded American expectations in several areas, including the financial services sector. In their opinion it should have been locked-in before Zhu returned home to a less supportive bureaucracy and populace. Articles in Chinaís official press in late June citing internal opposition to WTO accession at high government levels lend credibility to this line of argument.
In an effort to seal an agreement before returning to China, Zhu enlisted the support of the American business community at each subsequent stop. While in Chicago, Zhu visited the Mercantile Exchange and over lunch with several CEOs appealed for their assistance in persuading Clinton and the Congress to reach an agreement on WTO entry and grant China permanent normal trade relation status.
Taking up the gauntlet, a group of CEOs met with Clinton at the White House on April 12 to discuss strategies for getting an accession agreement. The following day Clinton phoned Zhu while he was in New York City to reiterate his commitment to Chinaís entry and obtain Zhuís support for continuing negotiations in Beijing.
In reaction to the May 7 accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, China suspended negotiations. At press time they had not resumed.