WASHINGTON — Chinese leaders have told the United States that they plan to stick with a "wait and see" attitude toward Taiwan's new president and that they are open to resuming a dialogue with the estranged island, a senior administration official said Saturday.

The Chinese assurances, if borne out, come at a crucial time for the administration, which is scrambling to put relations with China on an even keel before President Clinton leaves office and to persuade Congress to upgrade economic relations with China.

Last week, President Jiang Zemin of China and other top leaders assured the national security adviser, Sandy Berger, that China's initial, restrained reaction to the election of Chen Shui-bian as Taiwan's president last month was part of a "considered policy."

Chen's party had previously called for independence from China, something Beijing has sworn it will not allow, and he only recently muted that stance.

The Chinese have decided, at least for the time being, to try to reach an accommodation with his new government, which is expected to be formed in May, the official said.

"They don't quite know what to make of the situation," the senior administration official said, describing Berger's two-day talks with the Chinese. "But they are not inclined to act in a precipitous way, and they want to find a way to reach an accommodation consistent with their principles."

"They are working on a formulation consistent with their one-China principle," the official added.

Berger traveled to China in part because the administration is simultaneously seeking to smooth relations between mainland China and Taiwan even as it struggles to assemble a Republican-dominated coalition of lawmakers willing to grant China permanent trading rights in the U.S. market.

Congressional leaders said that any flare-up in tension between China and Taiwan would almost certainly derail the administration's hopes to win passage of the trade measure soon. The administration, in turn, has warned that failure to pass the measure could seriously set back relations with China and diminish U.S. influence there.

"There is an important national security argument for going forward with permanent normal trade relations, which is if anything intensified by developments related to Taiwan," said the senior administration official.

"It not only creates a degree of interdependence between China and the world community but also to the economic integration of China and Taiwan."