''I SOMETIMES FEEL that some American administration officials don't take a realistic attitude toward China's trade requirements . . . They still don't seem to understand what has happened in China, especially when China is in the process of economic reform . . . I don't think that there is a correct understanding of the circumstances in our particular case, I don't think that some Americans understand how the Chinese system works."

This criticism comes from Gao Weijie, president of China Ocean Shipping Co. in the United States, and adviser to the Chinese permanent delegation at the negotiations concerning a new Sino-U.S. maritime agreement. Spoken some five months ago, these words gain in significance in light of recent reports of an agreement between Western Union Corp. and the government of China, enabling Western Union to launch its latest communications satellite on a Long March Chinese rocket.Mr. Gao singled out for his criticism "American administration officials." He was careful not to mention the U.S. private enterprise sector. Could it be that the Chinese would rather do business with private capitalistic concerns - something that is not exactly in accord with Marxist doctrine?

The irony is of course that China - which only a decade ago was considered to be a thoroughly backward nation, delayed in its modernization by pragmatic Communism and thrown further back by the "Cultural Revolution" - has entered a high-technology field that for many years has been the almost exclusive preserve of space pioneers in the United States and the Soviet Union, with a European consortium copying a few feats of rocketry.

But the Soviets, with their immense red tape, travel restrictions and fear of foreigners, make space ventures with satellites belonging to other nations impossible. In the United States, last winter's Challenger tragedy stopped such ventures for some time. Gaining from this are the Europeans, whose Ariane rocket is booked well into the 1990s.

The Chinese thus have a wide open field and, along with the Americans, a dozen other private companies from all over the world are negotiating with the Ministry of Astronautics in Peking for multiple launches of commercial satellites on the two types of Long March rockets that are available.

Payment for the services of Long March rockets will be in U.S. dollars. This alone eliminates all problems with understanding of "what has happened in China" and "how the Chinese system works."

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