CHINA yesterday expressed its hope that the forthcoming visit to Beijing of Assistant US Trade Representative Douglas Newkirk would pave the way for its early re-entry into the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). ''We welcome [Mr Newkirk's] visit and hope both sides will make joint efforts to ensure China rejoins the GATT at the earliest possible date,'' said Foreign Ministry spokesman Wu Jianmin. Mr Wu noted that in the Sino-US memorandum of understanding on market access signed on October 10 last year, the US had expressed its ''staunch support'' for China's resumption of GATT status and said he hoped the forthcoming meeting would mark the firstconcrete steps towards achieving that aim. US officials, however, are privately down playing the visit, saying the Chinese Government should not expect ''instant access'' to GATT following the talks. Mr Newkirk and his delegation are expected to arrive in Beijing at the end of February for two days of formal talks with officials from the Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations and Trade (MOFERT) beginning on March 1. The Chinese delegation is expected to be headed by MOFERT Vice-Minister Tong Zhiguang, who was chief negotiator in last year's market access talks. The talks will focus specifically on GATT, but US officials stress the administration has not committed itself to unconditional support of China's long-awaited resumption of GATT status. The agreement signed last year, they say, focuses on the ''process of accession'' and is carefully worded to leave a loophole as to how ''staunchly'' the US will support China's entry into GATT.