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China: Unwise to Snub

President Clinton to address Beijing's huge trade surplus during June visit

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By the time today's babies graduate from college, China could be the world's largest economic superpower - bigger than the United States.

That's one reason President Clinton should go ahead with his visit to China late this month - despite his troubles with campaign finances and rocket-technology exports, says Murray Weidenbaum, top economic adviser to former President Reagan.

"China should be a major focus of attention to any presidential administration in Washington," says the chairman of the Center for the Study of American Business in St. Louis. "It makes good sense for the leaders of these two major nations to get to know each other."

Measured on the basis of national purchasing power, China has already passed Germany to become the third-largest economy in the world.

It might pass Japan in a decade or so, especially if the Japanese economy remains stalled for a while.

Though China's per capita purchasing power is low, only about $2,000 a year on average, there are a lot of Chinese - 1.2 billion.

And while they consume most of what they produce, China is currently the United States' fourth largest trading partner.

The two nations exchanged more than $75 billion in goods in 1997.

Clinton's diverse agenda

When President Clinton arrives in Beijing June 25 to meet with Chinese President Jiang Zemin, his agenda will be diverse: nuclear non proliferation, India-Pakistan tensions, economic uncertainty in East Asia, human rights including religious freedom, and trade.

Mr. Weidenbaum hopes the visit doesn't focus too much on contracts for American companies.

"That puts us in a vulnerable position," he says. "The Chinese wonder what is the purpose of the visit."

Weidenbaum doesn't get as incensed as some of his Republican colleagues over alleged efforts by the Chinese to influence the last American election with campaign money.

He recalls blatant moves by the US to win votes for its political friends in Italy, Chile, and other nations.

"They have no sense of history," he says.

Lower-level American trade officials are already in Beijing to continue negotiations over China's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva. Trade Ambassador Charlene Barshefsky is scheduled to arrive late this week.

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