- The Washington Times - Friday, January 3, 2003

BEIJING A whirlwind of U.S. diplomacy in China as the year moved to a close signaled what analysts called a warming in ties between the two nations. In a surprising reciprocal move, China agreed unconditionally in December to admit U.N. inspectors on human rights and just before Christmas released one of its most prominent dissidents.
The U.S. officials visiting China in recent weeks included the Pacific Fleet commander and the State Department's human rights representative, who followed a congressional delegation and America's point man on arms control dealing with Iraq and North Korea.
Adm. Thomas Fargo, recently appointed as U.S. commander in chief of the Pacific Command, visited Beijing, Nanjing and Chengdu, covering three of the seven military regions into which China's People's Liberation Army is divided nationwide.
Port calls to Hong Kong in the Guangzhou military region and Qingdao in the Jinan region by the U.S. Navy in November brought to five the number of PLA sectors visited by American forces within the past two months.
Analysts watching Sino-U.S. military relations say the meetings indicate more congenial relations coming between the two forces, but the sensitive regions of Lanzhou and Shenyang are noteworthy by their absence on the itinerary.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, one Western military attache said the Lanzhou sector is "key to truly solid strategic links." China conducts its ballistic missile and nuclear weapon testing in Lanzhou. That also forms the country's western borders in central Asia with India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia and Mongolia.
The Shenyang sector, in northeast China, covers its border with North Korea and Russia. In addition, it acts as suppressive force of last result should labor protests in the restive rust-belt industry provinces of Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang get out of control.
Detentions stemming from increased labor unrest were on the discussion list for Lorne W. Craner, the State Department's assistant secretary for human rights, when he held meetings in Beijing in mid-December. His visit was part of an ongoing human rights dialogue between the State Department and China. Among the detainees, some 300 according to sources involved with Mr. Craner's visit, are those arrested for Internet postings or for activities in Tibet.
Shortly after Mr. Craner's visit, on Dec. 24, Chinese authorities released Xu Wenli, one of the founders of the China Democracy Party. Mr. Xu was arrested in the early 1980s for counterrevolutionary activities, then released a decade later only to be detained again and sentenced in 1998 to 13 years of prison for establishing the opposition party.
Chinese authorities said they released Mr. Xu for medical reasons, but the timing with Mr. Craner's visit was likely no coincidence. A dogged campaign for his freedom has carried on for years in the West, particularly in the United States, and Mr. Xu's release and, incidentally, his destination of the United States has garnered points for China's credibility in addressing its human rights record.
Another purpose of Mr. Craner's visit, undiscussed but probable, was to defuse criticism that the Bush administration had downplayed human rights to secure China's U.N. support on Iraq and permission to establish the first FBI office in Beijing.
The December whirlwind started with separate visits from a congressional delegation led by Rep. Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican and chairman of the House Committee on International Relations, and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, discussing Iraq and North Korea.
Mr. Hyde met with President Jiang Zemin and head of the National People's Congress Li Peng during his stay in Beijing. Talks were described as "wide-ranging, frank and cordial" and included seeking a greater assistance on North Korea and arms export control issues.
The visit was capped by a speech to students and faculty at Tsinghua University, one of the country's elite schools, long a breeding ground for Chinese leaders.
A senior member of Mr. Hyde's staff who asked not to be identified said the visit was in recognition of China's emergence as a participant in the international system, which he described as "a momentous event in the early 21st century."
"While Washington is obsessed," to which he quickly added, "and rightly so, by the war on terrorism and Iraq, this focus could create a vacuum. Congressman Hyde's speech was supposed to be delivered a year ago but was delayed by September 11."
The Tsinghua speech addressed in broad terms several issues where U.S. and Chinese interests coincided plus those that posed problems. America's widening trade deficit, concern over intellectual property rights, human rights and Taiwan topped Mr. Hyde's list.
"These problems are the source of numerous daily frictions that, over time, can wear away the firmest foundation," Mr. Hyde said.
On the biggest bilateral sticking point Taiwan Mr. Hyde noted that "people on Taiwan have established a stable and vibrant democracy," adding that he remembered well when "such a thing was prophesied to be an impossibility, when the received wisdom was that democracy and Chinese culture could never be combined."
As Mr. Hyde left Beijing heading to Shanghai, where he cut the ribbon on a traveling exhibition of artifacts commemorating the 30th anniversary of President Nixon's groundbreaking visit to China Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage arrived to bolster support for U.S. plans concerning Iraq and North Korea.
The Dec. 9 seizure of a North Korean ship carrying 15 disassembled Scud missiles bound for Yemen, which took place during Mr. Armitage's stay, prompted swift comment from the State Department's point man on arms proliferation.
Leaving his hotel Dec. 12 for talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan and Vice Premier Qian Qiqian, Mr. Armitage told foreign reporters: "The signal sent to Pyongyang is, we know what you're doing, we know where you are and you can't hide."
He added: "China shares the same concern that the U.S., South Korea, Russia and Japan have, and that is we have to find a way to denuclearize the Korean peninsula. I'm sure the Chinese will be urging some different behavior from the North Koreans."
Indeed, North Korea's standoff with the United States regarding the communist country's enriched uranium program may offer a chance in coming months for China and the United States to find common ground.
Given its common border with North Korea, China is even less enthusiastic about the prospect of a troubled nuclear power than is President Bush, who included North Korea in his "axis of evil" at the beginning of 2002.
North Korea has announced it immediately would end a freeze on its nuclear power plants in response to a decision by the United States and its allies to suspend fuel aid to Pyongyang.
The North halted operation and construction of nuclear power plants in 1994 under the Agreed Framework with the United States, which included the promise of fuel oil to the North.

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