Mr Clinton is likely to announce the renewal of China's Most Favoured Nation status - in practice, normal trading conditions - on 3 June, but also to introduce limited tariffs on some Chinese imports such as those made by the Chinese army.
Ever since Mr Clinton boxed himself into a corner last year by laying out human rights conditions for continuing trade with China on the present basis, the administration has been looking for a way to avoid either a confrontation or political humiliation. Imports by the US from China were worth dollars 30bn ( pounds 20bn) last year and exports were dollars 9bn.
At a meeting at the White House on Monday Mr Christopher also advised Mr Clinton that China has not shown an improvement in five areas of human rights. He advised against revoking MFN status but proposed sanctions on imports made by the People's Liberation Army.
US business has lobbied intensively against withdrawing China's MFN status and has been supported by senior members of the administration. 'We've been communicating to officials in the White House our concern that MFN should be extended to China,' the Agriculture Secretary, Mike Espy, said.
The US also needs good relations with China which is the only country in a position to influence North Korea against developing nuclear weapons.
There is also growing disillusionment in Washington with the whole process of using the renewal of MFN status as a lever to improve human rights. Originally designed as a weapon against the Soviet Union and Communist countries - particularly as a way of enabling Soviet Jews to emigrate - it is considered too blunt an instrument for dealing with China.
Mr Clinton may not make his final decision about what to do about China before the coming Memorial weekend. Although the Chinese government has been largely resolute in saying that it will not make concessions under pressure it has had talks recently with the Red Cross on prison conditions and with American technicians on ending the jamming of Voice of America radio.Reuse content