President Clinton’s decision on Apr.8 to send Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji packing without an agreement on China’s entry into the World Trade Organization seemed to be a massive miscalculation. The President took a drubbing from much of the press, which had breathlessly reported that a deal was in the bag. The Cabinet and Whit House still appeared divided, and business leaders were characterized as furious over the lost opportunity. Zhu charged that Clinton lacked “the courage” to reach an accord. And when Clinton later telephoned the angry Zhu to pledge a renewed effort at negotiations, the gesture was widely portrayed as a flip-flop.
In fact, Clinton made the right decision in holding out for a better WTO deal. A lot more horse trading is needed before a final agreement can be reached. And without the Administration’s goal of a “bullet-proof agreement” that business lobbyists can enthusiastically sell to a Republican Congress, the whole process will end up in partisan acrimony that could harm relations with China for years.
THE HARD PART. Many business lobbyists, while disappointed that the deal was not closed, agree that better terms can still be had. And Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin, National Economic Council Director Gene B. Sperling, Commerce Secretary William M. Daley, and top trade negotiator Charlene Barshefsky all advised Clinton that while the Chinese had made a remarkable number of concessions, “we’re not there yet,” according to senior officials.
Negotiating with Zhu over the remaining issues may be the easy part. Although Clinton can signal U.S. approval for China’s entry into the WTO himself, he needs Congress to grant Beijing permanent most-favored-nation status as part of a broad trade accord. And the temptation for meddling on Capital Hill may prove over-whelming. Zhu had barely landed before Senate Majo