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China Logic

BARGAIN HARD - BUT NO NEW COLD WAR. That should be the crib notes US negotiators have stenciled on their cuffs when they deal with China or Russia.

Today the exercise is China trade. That includes both America's tit-for-tat struggle with Beijing over pirating of CDs, videos, and software; and the broader decision on renewing most-favored-nation trade access to US markets.

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We'll see lots of visual bites of Shanghai youths listening to illicitly copied CDs. Also file footage of officials steamrollering piles of videos, followed by shots of Chinese-made shirts sold in the US. But keep your eye on the ball. There are three questions to keep track of in this struggle:

1. Will Beijing agree to put more copyright-infringement inspectors in hardware/software plants during all the production shifts of the day? Will CD inspectors have the kind of enforcement powers that, say, pork-or chicken-plant inspectors have?

2. When it comes to timetables for Chinese compliance, will the Clinton administration and Congress listen to US textile importers as much as to largely West Coast exporters of modern American "intellectual property" such as recordings and software?

3. Will the administration focus on the overriding importance of continuing to influence Chinese leaders well into the future?

The first two points are immediate and practical. This newspaper has long championed strict copyright observance, believing that it is as important to protect the value of ideas as it is the value of goods.

One should be aware, though, that there is Chinese foot-dragging for good and bad reasons. It's understandable that a nation undergoing extremely rapid industrialization should have trouble keeping regulation in pace with expansion. Look at aviation and food-and-drug regulation in the mature US economy.

But there is also conflict-of-interest foot dragging. Some Chinese officials don't want to cross factory owners who have official clout. It's to counter this that the US is threatening 100% tariff reprisals on the largely government-owned textile-export industry.

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These are clearly important matters for the future of both American and world trade. But beyond and above them looms the overriding need to have a continuing workmanlike relationship with China's leaders.

Beijing's actions on two fronts will have vast influence for good or ill on humanity's future: (1) The pollution potential impending from perhaps 300 million new cars and motorcycles, plus coal-fired power plants; (2) Decisions about exports of nuclear components and missiles.

A US in cold war with Beijing won't be able to steer those momentous decisions toward safer outcomes.

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