Monday, March 21, 2005

BEIJING — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Europe in unusually blunt language yesterday that it should not contribute to China’s military buildup by selling it weapons and arms technology.

She argued that U.S. forces deployed to defend places such as Taiwan, South Korea and Japan could one day suffer if the European Union goes ahead with plans to lift a 16-year-old embargo on weapons sales to China.

“It is the United States not Europe that has defended the Pacific,” she said as she neared the end of her first trip to Asia since taking office two months ago.

“There are concerns about the rise of Chinese military spending and potentially Chinese military power and its increasing sophistication,” Miss Rice told reporters in Seoul before she flew to Beijing.

“The United States will, of course, maintain and modernize its forces to make certain that the military balance can be maintained in the Asia-Pacific, so that the region can continue along a peaceful path,” she said.

A senior State Department official traveling with Miss Rice said later, “We don’t want to see a situation where American forces are facing European technologies.”

Tensions between the Republic of China (Taiwan) and mainland China have been rising in recent months, reaching new heights with China’s adoption of a law last week that allows it to use force to prevent Taiwan’s formal independence.

Prime Minister Wen Jiabao assured Miss Rice yesterday that the anti-secession law was meant to contain independence forces on Taiwan and that “nonpeaceful means” were only “a last resort,” U.S. and Chinese officials said.

“We hope the United States will understand, respect and support the Chinese legislative action,” Mr. Wen was quoted by state radio as saying.

But in London yesterday, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the new Chinese law had complicated efforts to lift the embargo. That law and the lack of progress on human rights in China have “created quite a difficult political environment,” he said on ITV television.

The European arms embargo was imposed to protest the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations. The European Union says lifting the ban would be a symbolic political gesture recognizing the changes China has made since then.

But the United States says China’s human rights record hardly deserves to be rewarded.

To underscore the lack of religious freedom in China, Miss Rice last night attended a Palm Sunday service at Gangwashi Christian Church, just a few blocks from Tiananmen Square.

The church, which had been visited in 1998 by Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, is sanctioned by the Chinese government, unlike thousands of underground “house churches” whose members risk arrest.

Miss Rice did not discuss democracy and human rights issues with President Hu Jintao and Mr. Wen in Beijing yesterday, a senior State Department official said. Instead, she planned an in-depth conversation about those matters with Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing today.

Last week, the United States decided not to seek what had become a traditional annual resolution condemning China at the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva.

Miss Rice and Mr. Hu spent most of their meeting yesterday talking about North Korea and how it could be persuaded to return to six-party talks on its nuclear- weapons program, the senior official said.

He pointed out that the secretary had been using words such as “respect” and “sovereign state” regarding Pyongyang during her trip to “give the Chinese some diplomatic language to persuade North Korea to come back” to the negotiating table.

But the official said the United States and other participants in the talks are beginning to consider “other diplomatic means” if North Korea continues to resist.

He declined to give more details, only noting Miss Rice’s comments that the current situation “can’t go on forever.”

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