CHINA'S efforts to become a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) have, at times, appeared a battle of wills between Washington and Beijing. The comments yesterday by European Union (EU) Vice-President Sir Leon Brittan provide a timely reminder that broader interests and issues are at stake. Sir Leon's comments also point to a possible way out of the impasse over China's membership application. The United States takes the view - which is not without merit - that if China wants to join the club it has to abide by the rules. According to this view, a powerful country such as China must have open markets in order to belong to a free-trade organisation. Further, such a country must respect intellectual copyright, otherwise cowboy companies will reap the fruits of billions of dollars invested by US and other companies in research and development and in establishing respected brand names. However, while every country that wishes to be a respected member of the world trading community should abide by such basic principles, it would not be in the interest of most WTO members to exclude a future economic superpower. And while other WTO members would agree with the stated US aims, the suspicion remains that domestic political considerations may influence the vigour with which Washington pursues them. Most Favoured Nation status provides a recent example of an economic weapon being wielded to achieve a political end. That weapon was wielded so clumsily that the US had to abandon it. It is not surprising then that the EU should hesitate to embrace wholeheartedly any policy whose future might be influenced by the vision of House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who embraces Taiwan. The EU proposal to give China six-month probationary membership of the WTO is welcome and deserving of support. The WTO should set a realistic timetable for China's compliance with the organisation's rules and quantifiable targets to measure compliance. If China abides by its commitments, it should be granted full membership; if it fails, it should be refused membership and discussions suspended until Beijing fulfils all WTO conditions. Both the US and the EU are aware that China's apparent difficulty in moving towards compliance could be a delaying tactic aimed at obtaining an unfair advantage in relation to more-developed economies. Such a tactic has served Japan for well over a decade and Washington is determined not to get fooled again. On the other hand, Beijing does face genuine difficulty in jump-starting a huge and diverse economy that straddles several stages of development. Beijing's economic planners deserve every credit for the remarkable achievements of recent years, achievements that have raised living standards in China and protected the rest of Asia from the damage and instability that a tottering China might have inflicted. China deserves a little time and a lot of understanding but not complete lassitude and an open chequebook.