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Clinton Puts a Smile On China's Face

No one issue will 'torpedo' ties, officials say

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In glowing terms, senior Chinese officials say high-level talks with the US have marked a major turning point in Sino-US ties.

The rapprochement could lay the groundwork for the restoration of contacts to a degree unseen in nearly a decade, they say.

Despite ongoing disputes over human rights, Taiwan, weapons proliferation, and trade, "Sino-US relations are the best they have been since 1989," says a Chinese official.

"Although no major agreements have yet been unveiled, the two countries are rebuilding the foundations of their relationship," he said on condition of anonymity.

The consensus among Chinese leaders of a sea change in US-China ties contrasts with the more cautious optimism voiced by President Clinton, who is apparently downplaying progress in recent talks to deflect criticism of his new China policy.

Images of the Chinese military's march on Tiananmen Square in June 1989, broadcast live on television throughout the United States, were like a freeze-frame that for seven years blocked any views of the significant and sweeping changes that have taken place in China.

Partially frozen ties aimed at punishing Beijing also had the effect of limiting Washington's influence on China, and American policymakers in recent months have decided instead to employ constructive engagement to reinforce positive trends in China.

Clinton and Chinese counterpart Jiang Zemin met in Manila earlier this week, when they agreed to visit each other's capital within two years and to take other steps aimed at building on the two sides' economic complementarity while reducing tensions in areas of conflict.

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