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The BBC's Simon Ingram
"Some in the ruling Communist Party are still wary"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 14 March, 2000, 10:50 GMT
US: China crucial to peace
William Cohen
Cohen visited the site of a downed US fighter plane
US Defence Secretary William Cohen has reaffirmed Washington's commitment to build a durable relationship with China saying that Beijing was crucial to peace in Asia.

China by virtue of its sheer size is going to emerge as a much more influential power than it is today

William Cohen
Speaking on the second day of his visit to Vietnam, Mr Cohen also stressed the importance of Washington's security presence in the Asia-Pacific, which had, he said, enhanced the region's prosperity and stability.

Mr Cohen also told Vietnamese military leaders in Hanoi the United States was resolved to move forward in a manner that served the two nations' mutual interests.

But he said regional issues such as economic recovery, nuclear-free stability in the Korean peninsula and reducing the recent tension across the Taiwan Straits could not be resolved without China's co-operation.

Reassuring message

"We cannot fully address the great challenges in Asia ... without the largest Asian nation," Mr Cohen said.

Chinese policemen
China: A crucial partner in the Asia-Pacific region
Without mentioning current tensions over Taiwan, Mr Cohen urged China to avoid self-fulfilling prophecies of inevitable confrontation and to step forward as a co-operative, great nation.

Our correspondent in Hanoi says that in his address Mr Cohen was seeking to reassure China over the US rapprochement with Hanoi.

In a question and answer session, Mr Cohen was asked by a senior military official about China's future role in the region.

"China by virtue of its sheer size is going to emerge as a much more influential power than it is today," Mr Cohen said.

"I think one of the important and very beneficial aspects of Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) is that you have collective interests, and those collective interests can in fact, if you act in concert, give considerable leverage in dealing with China on a peaceful and co-operative basis," he said.

Missing in action

Mr Cohen is the first US defence secretary to visit Vietnam since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975.

Our correspondent says Vietnam's response to Mr Cohen's overtures has been positive but tinged with caution.

Newspapers in Vietnam quote the Prime Minister, Phan Van Khai, as telling Mr Cohen during talks on Monday that the US should do more to help Vietnam overcome the consequences of the war.

He referred specifically to the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese still listed as missing in action and to the catastrophic side effects allegedly caused by the spraying of chemical defoliants like Agent Orange during the Vietnam war.

Mr Cohen was taken to a crash site south of Hanoi, where US and Vietnamese specialists are searching for the remains of an American fighter pilot whose plane crashed in the area in 1967.

Accounting for the 2,029 Americans still missing from the war remains "paramount for us," Cohen told reporters at the site.

On Tuesday Mr Cohen flies to Vietnam's main economic centre, Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon.

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