DANIEL TAUB

Staff Reporter

L.A.'s largest trading partners are all Asian countries. While their respective economic conditions play a big role in the fate of the local trade community, politics can be just as important. The following is a look at the relationships between the United States and some of its largest trading partners in Asia.

China

When Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji visited the United States this spring, there was a sense of optimism in political and economic circles even though the two nations failed to reach an immediate agreement over China joining the World Trade Organization.

But that optimism quickly deflated when NATO forces accidentally bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade last month, killing three and injuring 20. The bombing spurred several days of protest in Beijing and was followed by a congressional report that alleged Chinese spying at U.S. nuclear facilities. There also are ongoing questions concerning Democratic fund raising and accusations that U.S. satellite companies have been sharing sensitive information with China. Pirating of U.S. films and software also has been a problem.

For all that, it's still widely believed China eventually will join the WTO. China certainly has a strong desire to do so as a way to alleviate its own economic problems, and many in the U.S. political and business communities want it to happen. It's just a matter of when, many say.

The Clinton administration and many members of Congress are moving to a position of being "less sentimental, less knee-jerk, less reactionary," said Steve Clemons, vice president of New American Foundation, a Washington think tank.

"I think what you're going to get is kind of a continued muddle," he said. The U.S. and China are "building a relationship that reflects the complexity of things and is far more realistic. But that doesn't mean we're just going to walk down the aisle with China on WTO."

Hong Kong

Hong Kong, which became a part of China once again in 1997, also has been somewhat tainted by the findings of the congressional report, which suggests that Hong Kong has been a stop-off point for spies traveling between the United States and China.

Still, U.S.-Hong Kong relations have not suffered from serious problems under the "one country, two systems" rule that was established when Hong Kong rejoined China a system that has given Hong Kong a large amount of economic independence.

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