- The Washington Times - Friday, February 16, 2001

China is using some familiar faces and some old connections as it tries to sound out the new Bush administration on its plans for U.S.-Chinese relations.

With a series of potential flash points on the horizon, three of Beijing's senior American hands are in town this week to meet with lawmakers, journalists and aides of President Bush.

The delegation, which included two former ambassadors to the United States and the former head of the Foreign Ministry's office that handles U.S. relations, even stopped in Houston to visit former President George Bush before coming to Washington.

The senior Mr. Bush, the current president's father, headed the U.S. liaison office in Beijing after President Nixon re-established diplomatic contacts with the Chinese government.

Chinese Embassy spokesman Zhang Yuanyuan called the trip a "private visit." Vice Premier Qian Qichen, Beijing's senior foreign policy official, is expected to visit Washington next month.

Although not an official trip, "given the high caliber of the visitors, this was a chance to meet with administration officials, renew old friendships and compare notes on policy matters," Mr. Zhang said.

The three met with Undersecretary of State Alan Larson at the State Department, as well as with private China specialists and representatives of overseas Chinese organizations.

The visitors include Zhu Chizhen, who was ambassador to the United States during the Bush administration and the early Clinton years. Also in town is his successor, Li Daoyu, who served until 1998.

The third member of the delegation is Zhang Wentu, who served as ambassador to Canada and then headed the Foreign Ministry's office that oversaw U.S. affairs.

All three are retired from their diplomatic posts, although Mr. Li is now a deputy in the National People's Congress.

Tom Frechette, spokesman for the elder Mr. Bush, said the Houston meeting was "simply a courtesy visit" by the Chinese diplomats.

"It was definitely not a policy meeting," said Mr. Frechette, who declined to comment on the discussions at the private session.

The embassy spokesmen said the three men are expected to brief government officials in Beijing upon their return on their meetings here.

The new administration could be in for a bumpy ride with China as it attempts to chart its foreign policy priorities in Asia. Mr. Bush on the campaign trail rejected the Clinton administration's formula of China as a potential "strategic partner" and said U.S. policy in the region should focus much more on Japan.

The administration is getting bipartisan pressure from Congress to aggressively back a resolution critical of China at next month's U.N. human rights gathering in Geneva.

Beijing has bitterly criticized past resolutions.

In April, the administration is expected to decide whether to approve new arms sales to Taiwan, which China insists is part of its territory. Taiwanese officials have been lobbying for the sale, and many of the people appointed to senior posts in the new Bush administration have a history of sympathy for Taiwan.

Zhou Mingwei, deputy minister of Taiwan Affairs for the State Council, China's super Cabinet, is expected to visit Washington next week, the highest official contact Beijing has had with the administration since Mr. Bush took office.

Most critically, Mr. Bush has made it clear he plans to go ahead with testing and deployment of a defense system against missile attacks from rogue states.

Beijing has complained that the system would undermine the ability of its small nuclear force to retaliate against a U.S. missile strike.

Mr. Bush earlier this week signaled that he wanted to begin talks with China on his missile defense idea.

Beijing yesterday said it would agree to such talks, but made it clear that it opposed any attempt to overturn the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which banned such defense systems.

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