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SCOWCROFT’S TRIP TO CHINA CALLED HIGH-STAKES GAMBLE

SHARE SCOWCROFT’S TRIP TO CHINA CALLED HIGH-STAKES GAMBLE

A U.S. mission to China over the weekend was a high-stakes gamble designed to prevent Beijing from sliding further into international isolation, Western diplomats said.

They said President Bush risks strong domestic opposition to the trip, which was made by National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft. Washington cut top-level contacts with China after Beijing's bloody crackdown on protests in June.The visit may prevent further deterioration of Sino-U.S. relations and ease the bitter acrimony since the Chinese army crushed a campaign for democracy, the diplomats said.

"The relationship was in danger of spinning out of control," said a Western diplomat. "This was a wise, strategic decision."

Scowcroft was the most senior U.S. official to visit Beijing since the ban on high-level contacts. His visit was officially to brief Chinese leaders on the U.S.-Soviet summit off Malta, but it obviously covered much more.

He was was given red carpet treatment - a warm welcome from 85-year-old leader Deng Xiaoping who told his guest he hoped for quick solution to the problems that have strained Sino-U.S. ties since June.

That refrain was repeated in meetings with Communist Party chief Jiang Zemin, Premier Li Peng and Foreign Minister Qian Qichen during his 25-hour stay.

The state-controlled media prominently reported the visit, avoiding the usual criticism of the United States for meddling in China's internal affairs.

"Obviously, the Chinese were pleased," said a diplomat.

It was still unkown whether there was any progress on a key sore point - the fate of dissident Fang Lizhi, who took refuge in the U.S. Embassy after the crackdown. Fang, an astrophysicist, is described as a criminal wanted for instigating pro-democracy unrest that engulfed China for seven weeks until the army moved in on June 4.