Not all it seems
At first glance, it appears US-China relations are heading down yet another rocky path. The State Department has said it will again sponsor a resolution sharply critical of Beijing at the March meeting of the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.
But things are not entirely what they seem. The Clinton administration greatly dislikes many Chinese political practices, which at times seem to give new meaning to the word intolerance. However, another target of this resolution is America's own Congress and one real goal is to upgrade Sino-American business ties.
The paradox can be explained by looking at an earlier White House action: President Bill Clinton vowed to push for Congressional passage of a bill granting China permanent normal trading rights, which would give it full World Trade Organisation benefits in the US market. He also named two high officials as his chief Congressional lobbyists on this.
Moreover, American diplomats briefed senior Chinese officials carefully before announcing their resolution plans. The mainland's representatives did not like it, according to the State Department, but presumably they now understand what is going on.
Mr Clinton wants China to have full WTO benefits, which would give American companies reciprocal access to the mainland market. But many US legislators oppose this because of China's often appalling human rights record. By seeking a critical resolution, the administration hopes to show critics that it is not ignoring political issues for the sake of commercial gain.
It involves a bit of sham. The US will introduce its UN measure, and Beijing will complain about interference in its internal affairs. The resolution will fail, but Congress should find it easier to pass the WTO bill.
Thus Washington will have voiced its political concerns, but economic ties should be improved.