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Clinton Heads for Trade Meeting, Talks With Chinese President

November 23, 1996

PORT DOUGLAS, Australia (AP) _ President Clinton joins leaders from 17 Asian-Pacific nations in the Philippines today for an economic conference designed to breathe new life into efforts to promote global free trade.

Clinton is trying to foster better relations with China at a time of troublesome differences over issues such as trade, human rights and American arms sales to Taiwan. The economic stakes were underscored when the government this week reported that the U.S. trade deficit with China widened to an all-time high of $4.73 billion in September.

Promising to discuss those differences with China President Jiang Zemin candidly, Clinton laid out the broader stakes this week when he told a joint session of the Australian Parliament that ``the direction China takes in the years to come ... will help to decide whether the next century is one of conflict or cooperation.″

Both countries have a big interest in advancing trade and containing North Korea’s suspected nuclear weapons program.

After their meeting, Clinton and Jiang are expected to announce an acceleration of talks concerning China’s application to become a member of the World Trade Organization, which sets the rules for global trade.

China has been trying to join for more than two years, but the United States has blocked the effort, arguing that Beijing has done too little to dismantle barriers to free trade.

Clinton also meets privately Sunday with Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, with trade disputes sure to be a big focus, and with South Korean President Kim Young Sam to discuss tensions on the Korean peninsula.

Security for Clinton’s visit was tight: He was arriving amid warnings from U.S. officials of ``possible threats″ to Americans. Already this week, authorities have found two bombs in Manila, killed two armed rebels outside the capital, and struggled to hold back anti-APEC protesters.

Before leaving Australia today, Clinton got in one last round of golf, hiked around a rain forest with his wife, Hillary, and taped his weekly radio address, laying out the thinking behind his three-nation tour of the Asian-Pacific region.

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``America’s involvement and influence here helps to provide the stability, to promote the economic progress, to encourage the cooperation on many fronts, including preserving our natural environment, that benefits all Americans,″ Clinton said in his radio remarks.

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The APEC nations have made a commitment for free trade by 2010 for the group’s richer member countries and 2020 for the poorer ones. Critics say there has been little tangible progress toward those goals and that the time has come to reinvigorate the free-trade movement.

Clinton in 1993 elevated the APEC organization from an obscure meeting of lower-level officials to an annual gathering of world leaders, hoping to provide a relaxed setting to debate economic issues without the strictures of formal summitry. Last year, he sat out the group’s meeting in Japan because of the government shutdown at home.

The Philippines is an apt setting for this year’s meeting, given its economic turnaround in recent years under President Fidel Ramos, who also plans to talk privately with Clinton.

For Monday’s APEC meetings, the leaders will move outside Manila to Subic Bay, a former U.S. naval base transformed into a commercial zone that has attracted companies from around the world.

The leaders will pose for their traditional group photo, each wearing a Barong Tagalog native shirt, and write about their hopes for the region in a treasure chest-shaped time capsule to be opened in the year 2010.

At Friday’s APEC meetings among lower-level officials, the United States failed to get backing for a pact that would cut the price of computers, software, semiconductors and communications equipment by eventually eliminating tariffs on them.

Without the deal, APEC will have little to show for its week of negotiations and the summit that will cap it on Monday.

APEC consists of Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and the United States.

From the Philippines, Clinton travels to Thailand for a brief state visit before returning home on the eve of Thanksgiving. He will be the first American president to visit Thailand since Richard Nixon in 1969.

Update hourly