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Last Updated: Monday, 14 March, 2005, 19:01 GMT
Tough talks loom for Rice in Asia
By Jonathan Beale
BBC state department correspondent

Condoleezza Rice
Condoleezza Rice faces a delicate balancing act in talks with China
Condoleezza Rice's first diplomatic mission to Europe and the Middle East already appears to be bearing fruit.

But her second major tour, to South and East Asia, may prove more difficult.

China will prove her greatest challenge with the recently passed anti-secession law with respect to Taiwan.

The US is troubled by that move but still needs China to help restart talks to halt North Korea's nuclear weapons programme.

CHINA

China has just passed a new law which provides the mainland with a legal basis to attack Taiwan if it declares independence.

This will only heighten the tension for the secretary of state's stopover in Beijing.

Even before that law was passed, Ms Rice talked about "troubling aspects" of China's growing economic and military might.

The US had appealed for restraint on this issue but so far to no avail.

However, the US does not want to provoke Beijing - not least because it sees China as a key player in sensitive international talks aimed at halting North Korea's nuclear weapons programme.

NORTH KOREA

It was always intended that the main focus of Ms Rice's diplomatic mission to South and East Asia would be to restart the six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons.

Along with the US, three of the countries she will be visiting are participants: China, South Korea and Japan.

Three rounds of negotiations have taken place since 2003 in Beijing. But North Korea's "enigmatic" leader Kim Jong-il has refused to participate in a new round of negotiations.

He is demanding an apology from Washington after Ms Rice labelled North Korea as an "outpost of tyranny". She is not backing down.

China's influence will again prove crucial. It supplies Pyongyang with much of its energy.

INDIA AND PAKISTAN

The US has far warmer relations with two other nuclear powers she will be visiting in the region - India and Pakistan.

The previous Secretary of State, Colin Powell, invested much of his time in trying to defuse tension over disputed Kashmir.

Ms Rice will want to ensure that the rapprochement continues.

Pakistan has been an important ally for the US in its war on terror and in return has received financial support.

India will want reassurances that it is an equal partner and will consider the possibility of approving the sale of F16 jet fighters to both countries.

AFGHANISTAN

The other purpose of Condoleezza Rice's visit is to highlight President Bush's global vision of spreading democracy and freedom.

Afghanistan provides the secretary of state with an opportunity to show how democracy can take a hold in the Muslim world and offer what the US believes is an "antidote to terrorism".

But Afghanistan's transformation is still fragile. The US state department itself has highlighted the dangers of it becoming a "narcotics state".

Throughout her tour Condoleezza Rice will have to tread cautiously in lecturing this part of the globe on democracy and freedom.

There is a big question as to how far she will push that agenda in Communist China, though it will hard to avoid the issue of Beijing's record on human rights.

What will she say to President Musharraf of Pakistan who, despite promises of pursuing democratic reforms, is still wearing a military uniform?

JAPAN

Condoleezza Rice will have the least worry on her visit to Japan. The US sees Tokyo as one of the mainstays of stability in the region.

It is where the US secretary of state will make a major speech about Asia's role in the world.

But after her "honeymoon" tour of Europe this diplomatic mission will test Condoleezza Rice and her new era of diplomacy.


SEE ALSO:
Growing up with Condoleezza Rice
28 Feb 05 |  Americas
Chinese law a warning to Taiwan
14 Mar 05 |  Asia-Pacific
N Korea makes missile test threat
03 Mar 05 |  Asia-Pacific


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