THE American Government has in principle agreed to invite Chinese Vice-Premier Zou Jiahua to visit the United States, where he is expected to meet President Bill Clinton. The trip, scheduled for the first week of May, is yet another indication Mr Clinton is inclined to renew China's Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status in spite of the recent spate of detentions of dissidents. However, the difficulties that Washington and Beijing have had over protocol aspects of the Zou tour illustrates the vast differences between the two countries, according to analysts in Washington and in Beijing. Coming after the on-goingAmerican tour of the Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Co-operation Wu Yi, Mr Zou, whose portfolio is industry and infrastructure, will make a further bid to clinch MFN by assuring the US of China's commitment to buying moreAmerican products and providing investment opportunities for American businesses. Informed sources said Mr Zou, a former ordnance minister, had originally planned to visit Canada only. However, several large corporations in the US persuaded the Vice-Premier to tour the US as well. ''Both the Department of Commerce and the Department of Energy have since expressed an interest in hosting Mr Zou's tour,'' an informed source said. ''Beijing and Washington are now negotiating the level of treatment that should be accorded the senior minister.'' It is understood that the Chinese are demanding a ''fairly long meeting'' with Mr Clinton plus opportunities for Mr Zou to meet top-level American dignitaries and to make high-profile speeches. However, US officials are worried that since the visit comes shortly before Mr Clinton is due to make his decision on MFN, an excessively enthusiastic reception for Mr Zou will confirm suspicions the American President has decided to separate trade and human rights issues. Another source said that the Chinese had indicated if Mr Zou could not be assured of a ''top-level reception'', he would settle for a private visit, in which case he might skip Washington and spend most of his time touring large corporations. Analysts in Washington said it was likely the US would eventually accommodate Chinese demands. ''Negotiations over the protocol aspects of the Zou trip have been difficult and both sides have failed to hammer out a solution less than three weeks before the tour is supposed to take place,'' an Asian diplomat said. The diplomat added that in spite of the differences between the State Department and the economic departments, including the Department of Commerce, over Washington's China policy, the former was also actively supporting the visit. ''A long meeting between Zou and Clinton will confirm the widely reported fact that the latter is inclined towards renewing MFN in any case,'' he added. Mr Zou will be one of the most senior Chinese officials to visit the US after the June 4, 1989 crackdown. The two-day trip by President Jiang Zemin to Seattle in November was not considered an official visit because Mr Jiang was there to take part in an ''informal summit'' of the heads of state of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation countries. Chinese and American sources said if MFN was renewed in June, there was a good chance Executive Vice-Premier Zhu Rongji would pay an official visit to the US in the latter part of the year.