China is on the verge of a major test of its ability to improve its standing throughout the world.

This test will come when China applies for new loans from the World Bank. The acceptance or rejection of these loan applications will signal how far the industrialized world is willing to go in relaxing the sanctions imposed against China after the massacre in Tiananmen Square in June 1989.It's a truly major test not only because the World Bank is the largest multilateral lending agency, but also because many commercial banks and state institutions refer to World Bank policy when considering loans to China.

Up to a point, a case can be made for some easing of the sanctions against China, which in a number of ways is proving to be a good neighbor. After all, China supported all of the U.S.-led resolutions in the United Nations Security Council to impose an embargo on Iraq after the invasion of Kuwait. China also played a constructive role in pushing for peace talks and a political solution to the civil war in Cambodia. Moreover, Chinese leaders are starting to talk about major economic reforms that eventually could result in all commodity prices being determined by the market, not dictated by the government.

But when all such improvements have been taken into account, the fact remains that China's track record on human rights still leaves much to be deserved. And it's the violation of such rights that led to the imposition of sanctions against China.

Just how bad the human rights situation remains in China can be seen from a recent report by Amnesty International. The report details Chinese executions in larger number than any year since 1983, when 5,000 to 10,000 people were killed.

Many of those executed this year were shot only two or three weeks after trials that fall far below international standards and permitted almost no time in which to prepare a defense. What's more, many of those executed had committed non-violent offenses often associated with political protest.

By all means, China should be rewarded by the rest of the world for whatever improvements it makes. But clearly the time still has not come to entirely abandon the stick in favor of the carrot.