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Zhu, Clinton Fail to Reach Agreement on China’s WTO Status

By Bob Drogin

In a sharp disappointment to both governments, President Clinton and visiting Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji failed to reach a final agreement Thursday to pave the way for China’s long-awaited entry into the World Trade Organization, but they pledged to conclude a comprehensive trade package by the end of this year.

At a news conference after talks at the White House, Zhu also said Beijing would cooperate with U.S. investigations into alleged Chinese espionage of nuclear weapons secrets from American laboratories during the 1980s and 1990s, and into allegations that China’s chief of military intelligence secretly funneled money to subsidize contributions to help Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign.

“I agree to cooperate with your side in (the) investigations,” Zhu said, turning to Clinton at a joint news conference. “So long as you can provide some clues and, no matter who it may involve, we will investigate.”

Zhu said that neither he nor Chinese President Jiang Zemin had any personal knowledge of the alleged spying or illicit campaign contributions. “I don’t believe such stories,” he said.

With no major news to announce, Clinton and Zhu bantered good-naturedly through their translators during the news conference in an auditorium across from the White House. Zhu, whose jet-black hair and impish smile belie his 70 years, largely dominated the session, sometimes speaking as statesman and sometimes seeming to perform as stand-up comic.

Peppering his comments with English phrases, he pleaded for leniency from the White House media, said “maybe God did not welcome me” in Los Angeles because of the rain, noted that American microphone technology was “not that advanced” given the squeaks and squeals in the room, and ended nearly every answer with a self-deprecating joke.

Zhu confessed, for example, that he was “really reluctant” to visit the United States because of anti-Chinese headlines here about espionage, security, human rights and other issues. He said several visiting congressmen urged him to come because he was a “new face.” “I told them I really lack the guts to go,” he said, adding in English that he feared he would become a “bloody face.”

Clinton finally closed the nearly 90-minute session by looking at his watch and rolling his eyes, provoking laughter.

The two leaders’ inability to reach a final agreement on China’s 13-year bid to join the World Trade Organization, despite nearly nonstop negotiations in recent days, was a setback to both governments. Officials on both sides had hoped a broad-based trade package to open Chinese markets would provide political as well as economic benefits at a time of increasingly rocky relations.

Aides said Clinton and Zhu instructed their chief trade negotiators to complete a deal as soon as possible with the goal of getting China, which does $300 billion in trade per year, into the WTO by the end of the year. The Geneva-based organization sets and arbitrates global trading rules.

A Clinton administration official said said the chief remaining differences were over U.S. demands for greater access to Chinese markets for banking and securities.