Wednesday, April 14, 2004

SHANGHAI — Vice President Dick Cheney yesterday told Chinese leaders that the United States is committed to its arms sales to Taiwan, and prodded China to pressure North Korea to abandon its nuclear program.

During several hours of meetings with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and Central Military Commission Chairman Jiang Zemin, Mr. Cheney told the leaders the Taiwan Relations Act, which permits the arms sales, is “an important piece of legislation,” said a senior Bush administration official who briefed reporters after the meetings on the condition of anonymity.

The senior official stated that U.S. weapons sales to Taiwan, which China views as a renegade province, were a direct response to “significant increases” in Chinese military deployments near Taiwan, including the deployment of some 500 short-range missiles.

Chinese officials believe the arms sales encourage Taiwan’s pursuit of complete autonomy and this week criticized the island’s recent purchase of radar systems from the United States.

“It’s important that there be a very clear open channel of communications between our two nations on that issue,” Mr. Cheney said of his discussions about Taiwan, which has been a contentious issue with China for decades.

The Taiwan Relations Act commits the United States to preventing the forcible reunification of the island with China’s mainland.

“From my perspective, it’s been a very successful trip,” said Mr. Cheney. “I’ve been pleased with the way we’ve been received.”

On North Korea, Mr. Cheney said, “I didn’t come expecting to alter Chinese policy.

“I did come with the mission of making clear what our views were, of hopefully sharing perspective with my hosts,” Mr. Cheney said. “I think we achieved that.”

Mr. Cheney told the Chinese leaders that information provided by the covert nuclear technology supplier group headed by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan should convince Beijing that North Korea obtained uranium enrichment technology through the network, the senior official said.

China’s government in the past has said it does not believe North Korea has a covert uranium enrichment program, only the plutonium program that was reported to the Vienna, Austria-based International Atomic Energy Agency.

The recent disclosures about Mr. Khan supplying nuclear technology to North Korea is ominous, the senior official said, noting that “time is not on our side with respect to the North Korean program.”

“We think it’s important to move forward aggressively to get this thing resolved as quickly as possible,” the senior official said. The official stated that the six-nation talks on the problem is “the preferable method” for dealing with the issue.

Later, Mr. Cheney told reporters traveling with him that China and the United States both have made enormous progress since Mao Tse-tung’s rule over China ended with his death in 1976.

China’s leaders, including Mr. Hu, have shown “professionalism” that is impressive, Mr. Cheney said.

However, he stated: “I think it is a mistake for us, as Americans, to underestimate the extent to which there are differences, in terms of our approach, in terms of our political systems, in terms of our culture, history.

“By the same token, I think it’s clear that there are broad areas where we share common strategic interests, and that with careful, thoughtful work on both sides going forward, there’s no reason why we can’t achieve a high degree of cooperation and avoid the kind of conflict and confrontation that would be a tragedy for everybody,” Mr. Cheney said.

Mr. Cheney also raised U.S. concerns about the erosion of democracy in Hong Kong during the Beijing meetings, telling the Chinese “that to some extent the people of Taiwan might view what happens in Hong Kong as a bellwether of China to the one country, two systems approach,” the senior official said.

Mr. Cheney expressed U.S. support for China’s agreement in 1997 to allow Hong Kong to govern itself separately from Beijing under the one country, two systems idea, the senior official said.

Mr. Cheney passed on a letter from the Vatican asking China to allow the Vatican to send formal representatives to China. Beijing’s official atheist communist government does not recognize the Roman Catholic Church or the Vatican and has created a state-run Catholic organization in its place.

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