AFTER years of ranking Israel and South Africa high on its blacklist, China has warmed to the two countries and pushed the pragmatism in its foreign policy to a new extreme.China's partial opening to the two countries this month is part of its effort to broaden diplomatic contacts after the downfall of fraternal communist regimes, Western diplomats say. With the crumbling of Soviet influence, China seeks to pose itself as a socialist counterweight to United States primacy in southern Africa, the Middle East, and other regions, they say. Also, Beijing aims to thwart its rival, the Nationalist government on Taiwan, in its own campaign to bolster diplomatic clout with other countries, they say. Taipei maintains close relations with South Africa. The formative diplomatic contacts will enable Beijing to quickly establish formal relations when South Africa fully dismantles apartheid and the Middle East nears a settlement to the Palestinian question, the diplomats say. Normalized relations with Pretoria and Tel Aviv are far from imminent. China's recent contacts with both countries have been understated and tentative; political obstacles remain. But in recent weeks, China has shown a willingness to put a political veneer on its relationship with Israel and make initial contacts with South Africa. The encounters betray an increasingly pragmatic foreign policy, diplomats say. China for many years has censured South Africa and Israel, despite its usual reluctance to criticize the internal affairs of another country. In the past, Beijing's criticism of the two countries has focused on their domestic policies, largely to win points with close friends in Africa and the Middle East, diplomats say.
Criticism curtailed But in order to avoid isolation itself, China has shifted away from its stand against the governments behind apartheid and the denial of Palestinian autonomy, diplomats say. The 1989 massacre of pro-democracy activists in Beijing "has intensified the pragmatism in China's foreign policy," a Western diplomat says. Before the massacre Beijing "was able to sit back and let foreign diplomats come to them, but now they must go out and seek friends themselves." Chinese diplomats met with their Israeli counterparts in Beijing earlier this month and discussed many topics, including the situation in the Middle East, a Foreign Ministry official says. Also, Foreign Minister Qian Qichen indicated to members of the World Jewish Congress in an Oct. 11 meeting in Beijing that China wants to renounce a 1975 United Nations resolution equating Zionism with racism, the congress says. "It was made abundantly plain to us that China today regards the wording of that resolution as a gross distortion of the truth and a slanderous slur on the Jewish people," Congress co-chairman Isi Leibler recounted in New York. Mr. Qian indicated that the gradual rapprochement between Beijing and Tel Aviv could be completed when the Palestinian issue was resolved, the congress says. China has firmly supported the Palestinians and maintains close political and military relations with several Arab countries. Nevertheless, Chinese officials met with Foreign Minister David Levy in September, one of several similar meetings in recent years. Mr. Levy announced recently that Qian will soon visit Jerusalem. China maintains a tourism office in Tel Aviv. Israel formally opened a liaison office in Beijing in June operated by the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. Technically, the office is for academic exchanges; in practice, it is also a staging ground for official Sino-Israeli contacts. With the improvement of relations, China is likely to seek technology, particularly for its weaponry. Israel last decade helped China modernize its tanks, tank guns, and other weapons as part of widely known military contacts that are denied by both countries. Five Israeli scientists reportedly visited Beijing in 1987 to negotiate a deal for upgrading China's missile technology. If consummated, the deal would have been ironic: China is a leading purveyor of missiles to Israel's enemies. It has sold missiles to Saudi Arabia and Iran, and offered them to Syria. But it is just such highly charged deals that have drawn Israel to China. Israel hopes through improved relations to influence China in its military and political exchanges with Arab states, diplomats say. China finds justification for improving relations with South Africa because of the internal reforms there. Like many African countries, China has grown increasingly conciliatory as Pretoria has retreated from its system of enforced racism, diplomats say. Johannesburg's Sunday Star newspaper, has reported that Foreign Minister Roelof (Pik) Botha secretly visited Beijing and met with Qian during a recent nine-day tour in Asia. Pretoria will neither confirm nor deny the report. Mr. Botha said at a press conference on his return that he had secretly visited places other than Taiwan, Australia, and New Zealand but that he was obliged not to identify them. A day after Botha returned home, a group of South African business leaders arrived in Beijing to investigate trade opportunities with China during a week-long visit ending yesterday.
South African business The mining, energy, and industry executives from the South Africa Foundation met with Chinese officials under the auspices of the Chinese Association for International Understanding. Botha said any effort to establish commercial ties with China would not impinge on Pretoria's close relations with Taiwan. But contacts between China and South Africa are likely to disturb Taiwan. Pretoria is one of the strongest among the few countries that maintain full diplomatic relations with Taipei.