- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 2, 2002

U.S. moves to beef up security and diplomatic ties with Taiwan could lead to a "retrogression" in Sino-U.S. ties, Chinese Vice President Hu Jintao said last night.
Capping a much-anticipated U.S. tour with a Washington visit that included a speech at a downtown hotel and a meeting at the White House with President Bush, the man expected to become China's next supreme leader stuck closely to Beijing's hard line on Taiwan during the speech.
"If any trouble occurs on the Taiwan question, it would be difficult for China-U.S. relations to move forward, and a retrogression may even occur," Mr. Hu told the friendly audience at the Capital Hilton that included former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
"Selling sophisticated weapons to Taiwan or upgrading U.S.-Taiwan relations is inconsistent with [U.S.] commitments, serving neither peace and stability nor the U.S.-China relationship and the commitments of the two countries," Mr. Hu said.
Mr. Bush had vowed to do "whatever it takes" to defend Taiwan and last year approved military sales to Taipei that angered the mainland.
The sales included four Kidd-class destroyers, 12 P-3C Orion anti-submarine aircraft and eight diesel submarines but excluded the sophisticated Aegis naval combat radar system, which the Taiwanese had requested. China's military has been massing short-range ballistic missiles near the island in recent years.
Mr. Hu, still an enigma to many here, gave few clues as to any changes he might bring to China during his 20-minute address, his only public remarks during his Washington stay.
He said China would continue opening its economy to global markets, argued that China's human rights record had improved, and insisted that "China pursues a defensive national security policy and has never taken part in an arms race."
Taking a few questions from the audience, Mr. Hu contended that support for "reunification" in Taiwan was rising, despite polls showing strong majorities favoring the status quo.
"Taiwan will be the beneficiary of China's reunification," he said of the island that Beijing considers a renegade province.
Mr. Hu was greeted by a noisy demonstration lining the block across 16th Street from the hotel where he spoke to the National Committee on United States-China Relations, an umbrella group that promotes U.S. business interests in China.
A small group of supporters was greatly outnumbered by vocal contingents protesting China's treatment of the Falun Gong spiritual movement and Mr Hu's own crackdown on Tibetan democracy advocates during his term as Communist Party general-secretary there in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
"Hu Jintao is a butcher. Hu Jintao is a murderer," the protesters chanted in English at one point.
Mr. Hu already had faced a tense moment on the human rights front during a meeting with congressional leaders Tuesday.
House Democratic whip Nancy Pelosi attempted to hand the Chinese leader four letters from members of Congress demanding the release of political prisoners in China and Tibet. Neither the Chinese leader nor any member of his delegation would accept the letter, Mrs. Pelosi said.
The California Democrat continued her criticism of the snub yesterday.
"I am extremely disappointed that the vice president refused to accept these letters," Mrs. Pelosi said. "I had been hopeful that we could at least talk about human rights issues in China and Tibet, but Vice President Hu's refusal demonstrates how serious the problem remains.
"China's human rights abuses continue to be an obstacle in developing the full potential of relations between our two countries," Mrs. Pelosi added.
Earlier yesterday, Mr. Hu had get-acquainted meetings with Mr. Bush, Vice President Richard B. Cheney and other top administration officials who were eager to size up the man expected to be China's next president.
Although such prickly subjects as Taiwan, nuclear proliferation and missile sales came up, the meetings were viewed largely as a cordial dress rehearsal for the day when Mr. Hu would succeed Jiang Zemin as president of the world's most populous nation.
Mr. Hu is expected to become party general-secretary this fall and to assume the presidency next year.
The Bush administration got off to a rocky start with China when a U.S. reconnaissance plane landed on Hainan island last year after a collision with a Chinese F-8 jet fighter, but senior officials viewed the war on terrorism as an opportunity to improve U.S.-Sino relations.
Mr. Cheney yesterday "re-emphasized how much the world has changed since September 11th," said a senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
"There will be areas where we'll disagree," added White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. "Those issues are in the area of religious freedom and human rights."
Mr. Hu got an earful on those subjects when he met with Mr. Bush two months ago in Beijing. At the conclusion of that meeting, the president gave a speech to Tsinghua University in which he hailed America's religious tolerance and political freedom.
The speech was carried live on Chinese television, but censors later cut it in half before posting a transcript on a government Web site.
Although that speech irritated China's communist leaders, Mr. Jiang talked to Mr. Bush before he left China about "the importance of having ongoing and candid discussions at a high level between our governments," the administration official said. That led to yesterday's visit by Mr. Hu.
During a 30-minute meeting in the White House, Mr. Hu and the president "discussed the war on terrorism, agricultural issues, Taiwan, missile proliferation, trade and human rights," Mr. Fleischer said. But the leaders had little time for in-depth discussions.
"It was a half an hour long," said a second senior administration official. "And when you have 15 minutes of translation in there, that leaves just 15 minutes to actually talk."
Still, Mr. Fleischer said, the president "noted there may be some disagreements, but he believed they could be addressed productively."

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