A senior Washington official will head to Beijing this month in an attempt to get day-to-day Sino-US links back to the level they were at before Nato bombed China's Embassy in Belgrade, diplomatic sources said yesterday. The visit by Under-Secretary of State Thomas Pickering will be his first trip to China since June, when Beijing rejected his explanations that human error led to the bombing in May. Mr Pickering is expected to seek to put any lingering resentment over the bombing and continued trade difficulties firmly to one side in an effort to rebuild other areas of the relationship, such as political, military and human rights dialogue. 'This visit is crucial in getting all the practical sides of the relationship firmly back on track,' said a senior United States source. 'The diplomacy has been carried out, now the time has come to seek meaningful action. If it goes well, we hope to really start moving things forward again. 'There has been a feeling that too many sides of the relationship have been left idle for too long.' A trip to the US by a senior Chinese military official, even a ship visit, could be the first signs of a successful meeting, US officials said. Chinese officials believed Mr Pickering's visit could have a big impact on routine links severed as relations soured over the bombing and subsequent violent protests outside the US Embassy in Beijing. Arrangements for Mr Pickering's trip were thrashed out during the summit meeting in Auckland last month between presidents Jiang Zemin and Bill Clinton. The visit had yet to be formally announced but was expected to take place in the last week of this month, officials on both sides said. Since Mr Pickering's last trip, the US has sent a payment, as agreed, of US$4.5 million (HK$34.8 million) to compensate the 27 Chinese injured in the bombing and the families of three journalists who were killed. The incident still rankles, however, as demonstrated by a stronger than expected message from Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan after a meeting with US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in New York two weeks ago. Despite conciliatory gestures by Ms Albright, Mr Tang insisted the US was endangering relations by accusing China of spying and failing to condemn the 'separatist' policies of Taiwan. Only last week, talks between US Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky and Foreign Trade Minister Shi Guangsheng concerning China's entry to the World Trade Organisation made little clear progress. Some Washington commentators feel ties will never be quite the same given all that has happened in the past six months. The debate over Washington's future dealings with China remains intense and is likely to rumble on through the winter as campaigning intensifies ahead of next year's US presidential election. China has already emerged as the key foreign policy issue.