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West, Japan begin to relax economic sanctions against China

Sanctions imposed by Western countries and Japan to punish China for last year's army crackdown on demonstrators for democracy are being eased because of China's cooperation with the West in the Persian Gulf crisis and in efforts to end the civil war in Cambodia, according to Western diplomats. European Community foreign ministers agreed this week to roll back economic sanctions and resume high-level visits. Japan has been moving steadily to rebuild relations, and ties with the United States have seen "peaceful, evolutionary change," one Western diplomat said.

At Monday's meeting of EC foreign ministers in Luxembourg, British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd said "no useful purpose is served" by continuing to boycott contacts with China. The head of China's legislature, Wan Li, is expected to visit London in late November for talks with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on the future of Hong Kong. He would be the highest-ranking Chinese to visit the West since the crackdown in June 1989.

Even though the ban on defense cooperation and arms sales remains in place, a French company, Thomson-CSF, plans to go ahead with an agreement to upgrade two Luda class destroyers with air defense missiles, radar and a tactical data system, Western diplomats said. French officials have said the contract is not a breach of sanctions because the agreement, reportedly worth $70-million, was signed in 1986, before the crackdown.

Western countries imposed economic sanctions, suspended high-level contacts and halted military cooperation and sales to Beijing after the army crackdown. But in the last several months, China has improved its standing in the world.

One of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, China supported all of the U.S.-led U.N. resolutions, including one approving the use of minimum military force to support the Iraq embargo. China also has played a constructive role in pushing for peace talks and a political solution in Cambodia.

More than 16 months after the bloody events of Tiananmen Square, Japan is about to resume a $5.4-billion five-year loan program with Beijing, with the first installment to begin shortly. The loans are for projects aimed at improving China's industrial infrastructure, including the construction of railways, port centers, telephone lines and fertilizer plants, Japanese officials have said.

Japan and the European countries have moved more quickly to improve ties with Beijing, one U.S. diplomat said, while U.S.-China ties are "being altered gradually." Secretary of State James Baker has met twice with Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen, and Assistant Secretary of State Richard Solomon visited Beijing Aug. 4-5.

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