- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 1, 2001

A senior Chinese government official said yesterday that sales of advanced U.S. arms to Taiwan could lead to "explosive" relations between the United States and China and undermine business ties.

Zhou Mingei, Beijing's senior specialist on Taiwan affairs, said during a press conference at the Chinese Embassy that growing business ties between U.S. companies and China had raised the stakes in the debate over arms sales to the island.

Thousands of business and cultural ventures under way between U.S. and Chinese entities make U.S. arms sales different from how they were 10 years ago, Mr. Zhou said.

"Especially with the entering of [World Trade Organization], we are looking forward to have more American business sectors to have long-term investment or long-term corporations in that region, which all requires the peaceful, stable surroundings there," Mr. Zhou said.

Selling arms to Taiwan, "which could be explosive any time," eventually will "hurt bilateral relations and it will hurt U.S. interests," Mr. Zhou said.

U.S. officials said privately that Mr. Zhou's visit, with a delegation of Chinese officials, is part of a major propaganda effort by Beijing to influence the Bush administration's decision on arms sales to Taiwan.

Taiwan's government in January asked to buy four Aegis-equipped guided missile destroyers, along with diesel submarines, surveillance aircraft, anti-radar missiles and other weapons, the official said.

A decision on the arms sales is expected next month.

Pentagon officials said the new administration is more likely to approve sales of advanced weapons, including the warships, based on a more balanced policy toward the region.

The Clinton administration sharply curtailed arms sales to Taiwan as part of its pro-Beijing "engagement" policy.

That policy has led to an arms imbalance across the Taiwan Strait as China's forces have deployed up to 300 new short-range missiles opposite the island in the past several years.

Mr. Zhou's delegation followed other recent visits by Chinese officials who met with administration and congressional leaders to express opposition to Taiwan arms sales.

In contrast, the State Department has blocked a planned visit this month by Taiwan's top admiral, who was expected to seek approval for the sale of the Aegis warships.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said in January the United States would do more to "provide for the defense needs of Taiwan" under U.S. laws regarding arms sales.

"We understand that a strong Taiwan that is secure is a foundation for that prosperous country to continue to prosper, and it is the foundation of stability and security in that part of the world," Mr. Powell said.

China broke off unification talks with Taiwan in 1999 after Taiwan's president made a statement interpreted by Beijing as a step toward formal independence, which China opposes.

Taiwan's new ruling political party, the Democratic Progressive Party, in the past has advocated formal independence. China's government is demanding that Taipei accept Beijing's Communist version of "one China" before discussing reunification.

Mr. Zhou said China would "try in every way" to reach a peaceful settlement, but noted that "you cannot simply talk about peace without talking about reunification. Otherwise, what is the purpose for?

"You cannot talk about having a different system without recognizing one country."

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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