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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

Week of April 17, 1998

China to the WTO:Later, Maybe

In the current round of jockeying between China and the U.S., Beijing's ardor to join the World Trade Organization seems to have cooled. Asia's financial crisis, plus the imminent layoffs of large numbers of government and factory workers, have led many Chinese officials to become wary of opening their own markets too quickly. New Premier Zhu Rongji, even with President Jiang Zemin's clear mandate to revitalize the economy, is reluctant to force the issue on companies and institutions already shellshocked by the sweeping reforms he has announced. Getting those who head them to accept foreign competition on top of sizable cuts in both manpower and authority could be too severe a political test even for the strong-willed PM.

American negotiators say they are frustrated by what they see as Beijing's lack of progress in following through on earlier hints to further open its markets. The U.S. Trade Representative's office - headed by Charlene Barshefsky - has warned Beijing not to allow the stalemate to continue indefinitely, pointing to moves underway in Congress to impose a deadline for winding up the talks for China's accession to the WTO. If such a deadline is not met, the U.S. could raise tariff rates on Chinese goods to levels prevailing before the 1995 formation of the WTO - about twice what they are now. Barshefsky, who was due to meet with her Beijing counterpart on Apr. 8 in Geneva, might not be unsympathetic to that approach. Given their clout within the world trade body, the Americans can afford a hard line. As Sandra Kristoff, who deals with Asian affairs on the NationalSecurity Council said, when speaking to journalists about Beijing's entry to the WTO:"It's up to China." Going into the Geneva talks, Beijing's message seems to be: "Not now."

From July 1, state-owned housing will be available only for sale and not rent - another step toward abolishing the country's giant welfare housing system. Rents will be increased to 15% of family income or the market level. The full housing reform plan will be made public in May.


Week of April 10, 1998

Archeologists unearthed inscribed bones that could be the earliest evidence of the country's written language, the China Daily reported. Found in eastern Shandong province, the 3,500-year-old sheep shoulderblades bear eight characters, only two of which were recognizable to experts.


Week of April 3, 1998

An agreement allowing U.S. nuclear power plant sales to China went into effect March 19, ending a ban and paving the way for multi-billion-dollar deals to ease China's power shortage. But no big Sino-U.S. nuclear deals will be made before the 10th five-year economic plan, which begins in 2001.


Week of March 27, 1998

Why Washington Isn't Pushing Beijing

As we predicted at the time of heightening tension between the U.S. and Iraq in mid-February, the Clinton administration - despite heavy domestic opposition - will not sponsor the annual United Nations resolution condemning China's human rights record in Geneva. The move is not unprecedented. In 1990, the Bush administration made the same decision. Back then, as the U.S. was preparing for the military attack on Iraq, Beijing abstained from a crucial vote in the U.N. Security Council authorizing the use of force against Baghdad. A few months later, Washington decided that China's human rights situation was not anathema to the American Way and did not pursue the Geneva censure vote.

While Beijing again sided with Baghdad during this year's face-off, Bill Richardson, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., said after a trip to Beijing that he believed China would abstain again rather than vote against the Americans in the Security Council. The Chinese denied his claim furiously in public, but this time they did not have to choose. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's diplomatic mission to Baghdad headed off the military confrontation and the need for the Security Council's approval. But the deal had been struck and is now being honored in Geneva.

Still, Clinton's trip to Beijing at the end of June comes as a surprise. His advisers had been pushing for a November date, when cold weather would drive the official greeting ceremony indoors, away from Tiananmen Square. The plaza still has ugly connotations for Americans and Clinton's June reception there may give his critics something meatier to snipe at than the sexual scandals that are engulfing the White House. Then again, maybe not.


Week of March 20, 1998

China's Military Says No!'

Incoming premier Zhu Rongji's plans to cut back China's bureaucracy have made headlines, but proposed personnel reductions in the weapons, shipping, aeronautics, and industrial-nuclear sectors of the country's military industrial complex are on hold due to an angry backlash from the military. As the plan evolved last year, it was understood that Zhu wanted to fire two-thirds of the personnel in existing departments in defense-related bureaus and ministries as part of his plan to do away with 4 million bureaucratic positions throughout the government. A compromise was eventually reached to cut only half of the military's targeted workforce by merging redundant administrative offices. Hard-pressed by troop reductions and other cutbacks in recent years, the armed forces are under even more pressure to retire older cadres while creating sideline businesses to drain off idled workers. Not surprisingly, Zhu's dictates caused major tremors and sent many middle-aged bureaucrats scampering to look for other jobs. That left skeleton crews manning many department offices, with morale at an all-time low.

FORMER BEIJING COMMUNIST PARTY CHIEF CHEN XITONG will stand trial soon. Prosecutor-General Zhang Siqing told the National People's Congress the investigation into Chen's alleged embezzlement of funds is finished, and he will be tried for corruption and dereliction of duty.

CHINA-U.S. A long-delayed Senate report found "strong circumstantial" but not direct evidence that the Chinese government tried to influence American presidential elections in 1996. Beijing has strenuously denied the accusations, made largely by opposition Republican Party members.


Week of March 6, 1998

BEIJING SIGNALLED IT MIGHT accept Taipei's terms for ending the 31-month old hiatus in semi-offical talks. China will host Taiwan's political envoy Koo Chen-fu "at an appropriate time." Koo's visit had been proposed by Taiwan in November and again in January.

CHINA PLANS TO ALLOW more of its citizens to vacation in the SAR to help boost slumping tourism numbers there after the July 1 handover. Beijing had restricted the number of mainland visitors to the former British colony, in a bid to avoid a mass influx during the change of sovereignty.


Week of February 27, 1998

Sino-Pakistan Nukes On Ice

As Chinese and U.S. relations slowly warm, Pakistan's defense posture might be left in the lurch. When PM Nawaz Sharif visited Beijing for a week earlier this month, nuclear and military issues topped the agenda. Over the years, the two countries have jointly developed ballistic missile and nuclear capabilities, all arguably within the range permitted by the international Missile Technology Control Regime of 1987. When Sharif's entourage passed through Hong Kong after China, Pakistanis living there were told to expect some news about "a big development related to defense" - most likely a new jointly-developed medium-range missile that might be displayed on National Day, March 23.

But that might mark the end of such Sino-Pakistan cooperation. After Sharif's trip, officials privately admitted that, given the nuclear restriction agreement China and the U.S. signed in October last year, it will not be possible for Beijing to continue its level of support to Islamabad's nuclear and missile programs. But the Pakistanis have few misgivings. They feel they have developed an indigenous capability by now which is sufficient for their national defense.

To commemorate the first anniversary of Deng Xiao-ping's death, China will export some 40,000 videos and 350,000 video compact-discs of a documentary about the patriarch's life. The film, The Great Monument, premiers on Chinese television on Feb. 19, the day of his death.


Week of February 20, 1998

Of Human Rights, China, the U.S. and Iraq

What is going on between China and the U.S.? An errant, loose-cannon dissident - Wang Bingzhang - who smuggled himself into the mainland from Macau was mailed back to Los Angeles post haste on Feb. 9. And three American clerics are traipsing around China - "We're here to learn," they told reporters when they arrived in Beijing - at the invitation of President Jiang Zemin. It was an offer Jiang made when he took his high-profile trek to the U.S. to meet with President Bill Clinton last November.

And there is more. According to a well-placed Washington source, the U.S. might be ready to drop its annual censure motion against China at the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva in mid-March.

The State Department's Jan. 30 annual human rights report on China, which unusually commended Beijing for greater tolerance of opposing views and progress in human rights, could be a precursor to a stand-down in Geneva. And it is clear that Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights John Shattuck - a strong proponent of a tough Beijing line - has lost a heated intra-administration battle on China to the State Department's East Asia section and the National Security Council, which seek an easier relationship with Beijing.

Other factors are at work. Many U.S. allies no longer favor the Geneva censure, including Britain, which recently expressed satisfaction on how China handled Hong Kong's handover. And while making its all-out diplomatic push to muster international support in its faceoff with Baghdad, Washington does not want to expend political capital on "lesser" issues. In 1991, the U.S. pulled the censure motion in return for a Chinese abstention in a Security Council vote on the U.S. attack on Iraq during the Gulf War. The Americans could do the same this year.


Week of February 13, 1998

Beijing's Davos Pledge

Spontaneous applause broke out among the elite business-academic-government audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, when China's Vice Premier Li Lanqing promised that Beijing would not devalue the renminbi. But over the course of the six-day meeting, other Chinese dignitaries - in smaller meetings and in one-on-one interactions in the conference hall - indicated that the promise to maintain the currency's value was a finite one, and that it would be reviewed in 12 to 18 months. Li and his team should know. He seems certain to become Zhu Rongji's successor as Beijing's economic master planner at the National People's Congress in March.

As for China's negotiations to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), Sir Leon Brittan, the European Union's chief trade representative, likened the recent sessions to a love affair: "We have to work at it. And if we proceed, it will get passionate quickly, and will achieve a climax." When exactly might China join the WTO? "This year," said one high ranking Chinese official. On the day Li addressed the WEF, he also met with WTO director-general Renato Ruggiero.

CHINA-PAKISTAN PM Nawaz Sharif will make an official seven-day visit to China, starting Feb. 11. Beijing calls Sharif "an old friend of the Chinese people." The two countries have maintained good ties to counterbalance Indian influence in the region.

UNDER NEW BANKING REGULATIONS regulations, Dutch Rabobank will be the first Beijing-based foreign bank to open a fully legal subsidiary in another Chinese city - Shanghai. The official

announcement will come when Dutch Finance Minister Gerrit Zalm visits China at the end

of February.

CHINA-JAPAN After talks in Tokyo between Chinese Defense Minister Chi Haotian and his Japanese counterpart, defense agency director-general Kyuma Fumio, the two countries agreed to allow their warships to visit each other's ports. Chi's six-day trip was the first official visit to Japan by a Beijing military chief since World War II.


Week of February 6, 1998

PYONGYANG ASKED that the Feb. 12 meeting to prepare for the resumption of peace talks in Geneva be postponed until President-elect Kim Dae Jung takes power on Feb. 25. The session was pushed back to early March, most likely delaying the Geneva meeting.

CHINA-TAIWAN Beijing dropped its demand that Taipei recognize Chinese sovereignty as a precondition for resuming cross-strait negotiations. The mainland also renewed its call to resume the talks that were abandoned in 1995, when President Lee Teng-hui visited the United States.


Week of January 30, 1998

Emerging Piracy Base

Hong Kong was relieved that it was not placed on the U.S. Trade Representative's "priority" list of intellectual property rights violators recently. Such a listing can lead to economic sanctions. A review in April will determine if the SAR stays on the warning level "watch" list it was demoted to in 1997.

The Americans are more concerned with nearby Macau, where the production of counterfeit CDs and videodiscs is boom ing. Industry sources say the enclave has about 80, largely triad-owned, production lines turning out more than 300,000 pirated products a day. And Beijing - it is expected to be commended by Washington for its efforts to curb bootleggers - is worried that not only will the hot discs flood China, but that some of its own copyrighted material is already being ripped off in the Portuguese-controlled territory.

THE WORST cold wave in a decade added to the woes of people displaced by the Jan. 10 earthquake 22 0 km northwest of Beijing. Temperatures plunged to minus 35 C in the area where 44,000 people are sheltering in makeshift housing. The earthquake damaged 136,000 homes and killed 50 people.

"THE FIRST SIX MONTHS after the handover make us optimistic that 'one country, two systems' has been transformed from an imaginative concept to a concrete reality," British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said while visiting the SAR. He did voice concerns about the fairness of upcoming elections, though.


Week of January 23, 1998

Clinton Prefers a Cool Reception in Beijing

The friendly mood between Beijing and Washington that evolved around President Jiang Zemin's November trip to the U.S. soured somewhat over the New Year. Fresh tensions over human rights are the cause. The Chinese consider President Bill Clinton's meeting in the White House with exiled dissident Wei Jingsheng in Decemb er a violation of a promise not to use Wei as a propaganda tool. For their part, the Americans are unhappy that China has not released more dissidents, notably Wang Dan - whom they expected be freed by the end of 1997. But the two sides are trying to patch things up. The U.S. has suggested that continued progress by China on human rights might allow it to end its annual effort to lead a censure vote against Beijing at the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva in March. The Chinese have dropped their threat to release no more dissidents, and are pushing Clinton to make his scheduled state visit to China early in 1998.

Clinton is said to prefer an end-of-year date. American mid-term elections come in November, and he could be in Asia for the APEC summit in Malaysia after that. But the winter months have another appeal. Clinton does not want to be received in Tiananmen Square, as protocol requires, because of the bad associations it carries in the American public's mind. The political ammunition that such an official greeting would provide his domestic critics would dog him for the rest of his term. Wintery weather in Beijing provides a plausible rationale for the ceremony to be held somewhere less exposed than Tiananmen, perhaps even indoors.

THREE INSPECTORS from China will join the U.N. Special Commission, charged with disarming Iraq for the first time since the agency was formed after the 1991 Gulf War. Iraq says the current U.N. team is dominated by Americans who are intent on carrying out U.S. - rather than U.N. - policy.

AUSTRALIA GOVERNMENT tests show that vials taken from Chinese swimmer Yuan Yuan's luggage at Sydney airport contained unadulterated human growth hormone. Yuan and her coach, Zhou Zhewen, flew back to China as the swimming World Championships got under way in Perth.


Week of January 16, 1998

The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) predicts that 11 million Chinese will lose their jobs this year. Economic growth will stay high, and prices will remain steady, CASS says. The forecast came after railways announced plans to cut 1.1 million jobs in the next two years.


Week of January 9, 1998

CHINA AVIATION Fast-growing fleets of aircraft and a slow rise in demand have sparked a price war among China's 34 airlines since the lifting of ticket price controls in October. Airlines placed orders for 101 planes and received 48 in 1997. Beijing's ninth five-year economic plan calls for the acquisition of 300 planes between 1996 and 2000. The government is encouraging the sector to undertake mergers.

THE HEALTH MINISTRY plans to link 500 city and country hospitals by t elevision. The network - slated to be online by 2000 - will enable the country's best doctors to consult with colleagues in remote areas. China has 60,000 hospitals, but 80% of its health resources are concentrated in larger cities.

CHINA-RUSSIA The two countries signed a contract finalizing their plans to jointly build a nuclear power station worth $3.5 billion in China's eastern Jiangsu province. The project's twin 1,000-megawatt pressurized-water reactors will go into operation in 2004 and 2005.


News from China in 1997


News from China in 1996


News from China in 1995


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