Li vows to stand firm with US

Chris Yeung

PREMIER Li Peng described a forthcoming summit between American President Bill Clinton and Chinese leader Jiang Zemin as important, but stressed Beijing would not trade its principles for better ties with Washington.

In a wide-ranging interview with Hong Kong-based magazine Wide Angle, Mr Li said the two countries should maintain a stable and constructive relationship.

''China is willing to develop relations and have good co-operation with the United States,'' he said.

He urged Washington to ''increase trust, reduce troubles, develop co-operation and avoid confrontation''.

The two-hour interview was published by Xinhua (the New China News Agency) yesterday.

Mr Li said a meeting between top leaders of the two countries was a good thing and of great significance.

''It conforms with the common interests of the two countries and is conducive to safeguarding peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region for China and the United States to maintain a stable and constructive relationship,'' he said.

Without naming the US, the premier asserted that China was against hegemony.

''We have exercised great restraint on many matters, but our restraint is not without principle,'' he said.

China insists that a major principle of its foreign policy is that other countries should not interfere with its internal affairs.

Mr Li hinted that Washington's policy towards Beijing was damaging potential US commercial interests on the mainland.

China's President, Mr Jiang, and Mr Clinton are set to discuss a range of thorny issues including market access, copyright piracy, human rights and arms proliferation when they meet on November 19 at the end of the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) meeting in Seattle.

Mr Clinton this week ended a ban on high-level military exchanges dating to the 1989 Beijing crackdown, sending a senior defence official to discuss China's arms sales and regional security.

The Assistant Secretary of Defence for Regional Security Affairs, Charles Freeman, is scheduled to hold a press conference in Beijing today after meeting officials from the People's Liberation Army.

Asked if Mr Jiang would raise the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) trading status issue with Mr Clinton, a Chinese trade official said: ''I can't say whether they will be discussing this issue because it's an informal meeting with no aides. But this is a fundamental issue with China.'' Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Co-operation assistant director Li Zhongzhou told the Kyodo News Service in Beijing China would seek MFN status for all members of the APEC forum.

''We proposed that unconditional MFN treatment should be taken as one of the basic principles of APEC activities,'' the official said.

''We will submit a paper at the Seattle meeting putting this forward.'' The US, which is hosting an informal meeting of APEC leaders at the end of this year's ministerial meeting of the four-year-old group, had been unreasonable by refusing to apply the MFN status unconditionally, he said.