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Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji’s Visit to U.S. Under Discussion

By John Pomfret

The Foreign Ministry declined to provide details Thursday about Premier Zhu Rongji’s scheduled trip to the United States next week, a dramatic indication of a debate on the wisdom of the summit among senior Chinese leaders.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi said he had “nothing to add” to earlier statements that Zhu would travel to the United States this month. The White House has announced that Zhu will arrive on April 6 and visit several American cities. The visit is part of an effort to improve ties between Chinese and American leaders.

The Foreign Ministry’s silence is one of several indications that China’s leadership is debating the wisdom of sending Zhu to the United States.

The prime minister wants to make the trip, one Chinese source said, but other, more conservative elements in China are using the NATO airstrikes against Yugoslavia as an excuse to raise questions about his journey.

Meanwhile, Commerce Secretary William Daley, in China on an official trip, said he saw no reason to worry.

“I’ve not heard any speculation ... as to any chance that (the trip) would be canceled or postponed,” Daley told a news conference in the southern city of Guangzhou.

China is angry at the United States for leading the bombing campaign against Yugoslavia and for Washington’s decision to sponsor a resolution critical of China’s human rights record at the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva. Its officials also are concerned about what they fear to be a rising tide of anti-Chinese feeling in the United States, where China recently has been accused of stealing nuclear weapons secrets.

China’s reaction to the attacks on Yugoslavia has been unusual, however, in its virulence. One state-run newspaper said the United States and its allies have “raped” Yugoslavia. Chinese papers are routinely comparing the U.S.-led air assault with Nazi Germany’s attacks on Yugoslavia during World War II.