Clinton's key aides set to clash over Beijing

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 February, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 February, 1993, 12:00am

A TUG-OF-WAR on America's China policy is tipped for the coming months because United States President Mr Bill Clinton's key aides on China hold sharply opposing views - or no views - on how to deal with Beijing, according to analysts in Washington.

The central players include some who passionately believe in bashing Beijing to get results, others who favour dialogue, and still others who have thus far shown little interest in China.

Mr Clinton's top Asia policy-maker, Mr Winston Lord, firmly backs attaching human rights conditions to the continuation of Most Favoured Nation (MFN) trade status for China - a position Beijing angrily rejects.

Mr Lord, a former American ambassador to China, is expected to use his new job as Assistant Secretary of State for Asia to advocate a hardline China policy that retains certain sanctions against Beijing, keeps bilateral contacts at a junior level, links MFN to human rights, and elevates the US political role in Hongkong.

But his boss, Secretary of State Mr Warren Christopher, is not known to hold such firm views.

While he told senators recently that the US should demand that China moderate its human rights, arms sales and trade behaviour, he also said Washington should use ''creative diplomacy'' instead of relying only on MFN to pressure Beijing.

Mr Clinton's close aides and Deputy National Security Adviser Mr Samuel ''Sandy'' Berger are likely to argue for a China policy of engagement similar to that of former president Mr George Bush.

Before the elections, Mr Berger was an influential Washington lawyer and lobbyist who firmly opposed imposing human rights and other conditions on China's MFN status.

He represented several big US corporations with business ties in China and was an influential voice in the business coalition - which included the Hongkong Government office in Washington - that actively lobbied for unconditional renewal of China's MFN benefits.

Somewhere in the middle is Treasury Secretary Mr Lloyd Bentsen.

Mr Bentsen, who believes in free trade, is nevertheless furious about China's huge trade surplus with the US, which he believes was gained by unfair practices.