US lifts ban on sale of computer: Asia-Pacific nations put pressure on Europe over trade and Washington makes concessions to improve relations with China

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SEATTLE - China and the United States yesterday headed for their first summit since the 1989 Tiananmen massacre with hints of concessions on some of the many issues dividing them, but little sign that any broader understanding might be achieved, writes Raymond Whitaker.

Washington made one gesture to sweeten the atmosphere - it decided to allow the sale of an dollars 8m ( pounds 5.4m) supercomputer, blocked by the row over Chinese missile sales to Pakistan. US officials also said a ban on exporting components for China's nuclear power plants would be lifted, while Warren Christopher, the Secretary of State, was reported to have offered the Chinese Foreign Minister, Qian Qichen, a deal under which two satellites would be exempted from a prohibition on high technology exports if Peking agreed to talks on its missile sales.

China has lost no opportunity to remind Americans about its value as a market. On Thursday, immediately after arriving in Seattle, President Jiang Zemin toured Boeing's aircraft plant and told workers: 'So long as the business communities and governments of the two countries work together to remove all the negative factors and artificially imposed obstacles, we can certainly further promote the improvement of Sino-US relations . . .'

China appears to be conveying a belief that pressure from American business will wear down Washington's insistence that Peking cannot expect renewal of its 'most favoured nation' trading privileges next year without clear progress on human rights.

The main American aim at the Apec summit is to signal a new willingness to engage with China, but Mr Christopher in particular has been emphasising that this does not mean any departure from principles in the areas of human rights, weapons proliferation and trade.

The Chinese side is said to be baffled by Mr Clinton's Kennedyesque image and the somewhat incoherent signals his administration has emitted since he took office. It will be pleased that the man who once referred to the 'butchers of Beijing' now finds himself obliged to sit down with them, but one meeting is unlikely to remove its extreme caution about future American policy.