AS the heat becomes stifling in China's capital, the leadership takes off each year on foreign tours before retiring in August to the beach resort of Beidaihe. For all the uncertainty hanging over the health of Deng Xiaoping, this year is no exception. Premier Li Peng has already set out on a tour of the former Soviet Union taking in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. President Jiang Zemin is soon departing for Europe to meet counterparts in Hungary, Finland and Germany. Li Ruihuan, the politburo member and head of the Chinese People's Consultative Conference, has been in Jamaica and Cuba - and is now touring Brazil and Chile. Vice Premier Li Lanqing went around northern Europe making friends in Iceland, Finland, Sweden and Norway. Another Vice-premier Zou Jiahua is paying a visit to Singapore after returning from Australia and New Zealand. In Scandinavia, the Vice Premier was able to garner soft loans and promises of investment. In Latin America, Li Ruihuan is trying to lift China's profile as it seeks new markets for its products. China is also anxious to raise its profile among the recently independent countries in the former Soviet Bloc. Li Peng's outburst in Belarus against western interference over human rights in the 'internal affairs of sovereign countries' will clearly be music to some. In Russia, President Yeltsin has been heavily criticised for brutal military intervention in Chechenya. Yet China is finding the going harder in the smaller post-communist states of Eastern Europe. There is little liking for the Chinese government in Poland or the Czech Republic now ruled by presidents who were jailed as dissidents under their respective communist regimes. President Jiang Zemin may find an uncertain welcome too in Hungary or Germany where people have not forgotten how China reacted in 1989 to popular anti-communist demonstrations. The same tactics were, after all, contemplated in East Germany and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. Finland where Jiang is also heading knows, too, what it is like to be bullied by a powerful neighbour - in its case, Russia. The wide geographical mix of these visits points to the success of China's diplomatic offensive since 1989, but an immediate problem for Chinese leaders is to prevent the Taiwanese from scoring any more diplomatic victories in countries however small and insignificant they may be. Although the heat is not as unbearable in Taipei, Taiwan leaders have also set off early this summer and scored some very impressive diplomatic gains. Taiwan Vice-premier Hsu Li-teh kicked off with his Canadian tour, and was followed by a six-day 'private, unofficial visit' by President Lee Teng-hui to the United States. Then, in less than a week, Taiwan Premier Lien Chan flew off to Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic including a brief stop-over in Frankfurt where he met German businessmen. So when the President chose to crown his US tour with the claim 'communism is dead or dying', the Premier followed suit. After meeting with the anti-communist President Vaclav Havel, Premier Lien declared that Taiwan has found a 'firm friend' in the Czech leader. China suffered another diplomatic blow when the Dalai Lama embarked on trips to Germany, Switzerland and Austria this week. Some standing committee members of the National People's Congress in Beijing were said to be so enraged by Taiwan's diplomatic success that they have called for the sacking of Foreign Minister Qian Qichen. Political analysts believe a weak leadership in Zhongnanhai is partly to blame for China's recent diplomatic setbacks. American Sinologist Harry Harding noted that Chinese leaders had diverted too much energy into internal problems and the political succession after patriarch Deng Xiaoping, leading them to overlook the country's diplomacy, particularly in Sino-United States relations. Many Western diplomats and political observers believe that, due to domestic political considerations, Chinese leaders like Jiang Zemin and Li Peng have little room to manoeuvre. 'Every leader will avoid speaking on the diplomatic issue. If one strongly criticises the US, he will leave a bad impression that he is a hardliner who may not be welcomed overseas when he takes the leadership in future,' one political analyst in Beijing said. However, a leader runs the risk of a rebuke by the 'hawk' camp if he appears weak. The smartest will remain silent. The Russian card that Beijing used to play is no longer as effective. After the Cold War, Moscow is not so influential and has become more pragmatic in its foreign relations. Facing problems in its own fledgling market economy, China is also finding it hard to single out enemies or hand out economic largesse to win allies. So after recalling Ambassador Li Daoyu from Washington, the baffled Chinese leadership is now waiting for 'concrete action' from the US before agreeing to high-level talks to try to stop the deterioration in ties. There have been suggestions that Beijing might stage a military exercise in the east China sea as a gesture of displeasure to Taipei. The Central Military Commission has reportedly ordered its coastal military regions and the fleets in the East China Sea and the South China Sea to be on guard. However, Beijing critics say it is highly unlikely that China will engage in acts across the Taiwan strait which could possibly trigger international intervention. With little economic and military supremacy, some mainland scholars have suggested that Beijing should seriously evaluate its policy and strategy on Taiwan. Instead of emphasising negotiations with top Taiwan leaders, Beijing should pay more attention to lobbying at the parliamentary and civilian levels. Any radical and massive retaliation could leave China in isolation, they said. Taiwan, on the contrary, is led by the ambitious Lee Teng-hui, who is actively seeking international acknowledgement for his government. Now after the success of the visits by President Lee and Premier Lien, other senior Taiwan government officials are lining up to go abroad, with Justice Minister Ma Ying-jeou, for example, set to make a trip to Europe in September. It is obvious that Taiwan authorities believe they have little to lose through their international lobbying although Beijing has threatened such action will seriously undermine relations. Some observers like Chas Freeman, former US assistant defence secretary, have warned that an arms race has already started across the Taiwan Straits. Analysts in Taipei say one reason why President Lee was so eager to win international recognition was because he is looking to the presidential elections next year. Since both the parliament (National Assembly) and the legislature in Taiwan are now democratically elected, a popular mandate for the president would give the Taiwan government full legitimacy in governing the island - and that is something which China, at least, would find hard to bear.