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The BBC's Rob Watson
"You've got the new Bush administration and the Chinese government essentially sizing each other up"
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The BBC's Rob Watson
"The Chinese are worried about President Bush"
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Thursday, 22 March, 2001, 04:47 GMT
US and China agree to differ
Qian Qichen and Colin Powell
Qian and Powell acknowledged disagreements
China's Vice-Premier, Qian Qichen, has begun highly-sensitive talks with senior officials from the Bush administration in Washington.

The issue of US arms sales to Taiwan was high on the agenda when Mr Qian met Secretary of State Colin Powell ahead of talks with President Bush on Thursday.

The best approach in a relationship such as ours is to have candid talks

Colin Powell
In remarks before their meeting, both Mr Qian and Mr Powell acknowledged areas of disagreement, but said it was important to work together where possible.

Other thorny topics up for discussion are human rights in China and US plans for a missile defence shield, which Mr Qian has described as the most sensitive issue in relations with the US.

As long as both sides can be visionary... I'm sure China-US relations will enjoy a healthy and steady growth

Qian Qichen
On Tuesday, a top Chinese official warned of a "very serious" setback in relations if the US went ahead with the sale to Taiwan of four destroyers equipped with highly-sophisticated radar which can be linked to the shield.

Mr Qian has refused to rule out a pre-emptive attack on Taiwan if Mr Bush goes ahead with the sale.

"It all depends on the circumstances," he told a news conference in New York earlier in the week.

Policy shift

NMD technology
The proposed US missile defence shield will give early warning of attacks
Analysts expect Mr Qian's meeting with the president to further define what Mr Bush means when he says China is a "strategic competitor" rather than a potential "strategic partner".

On Monday, the State Department confirmed that the new administration was dropping former President Clinton's so-called "three Nos" policy:

  • No support for Taiwan independence.
  • No recognition of a separate Taiwanese Government.
  • No backing for Taiwanese membership of international organisations.

The move reflects strong support in Congress for Taiwan, especially among President Bush's Republican party.

New priorities

The difficult atmosphere also appears to reflect the new administration's shift in priorities in its relations with the region as a whole.

Anti-China protesters
Protests outside the State Department
Since taking office, President Bush has placed renewed emphasis on traditional allies such as Japan and South Korea.

Mr Qian had been due to meet Mr Bush on Monday - but his meeting was delayed after the president decided to receive Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori first.

The issue of human rights is also likely to be contentious, after the Bush administration's backing for a resolution critical of China at the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva.

Mr Qian's visit comes amid controversy over an American-based academic who is being held in Beijing.

The US has urged China to free Gao Zhan, who was detained along with her husband and their five-year-old son at Beijing airport last month.

She has been kept in custody though her husband and son were eventually released.

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See also:

22 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Tension in US-China talks
21 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
US family detained in China
15 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
US warns China on missile build-up
16 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
China builds new missile base
16 Mar 01 | Americas
Bush adds China to Asia itinerary
13 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
US report urges Taiwan arms sales
06 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
China warns Bush over Taiwan
21 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
Q&A: Taiwan's relations with China
06 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Military funding reflects China's fears
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