BEIJING -- China is keeping cool despite the election of a traditional pro-independence leader on Taiwan and is not about to take "precipitous action" against the island, a senior Clinton administration official said Thursday.

"They were willing to take a wait-and-see attitude," the official said following two days of talks between National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and top Chinese leaders in Beijing."The message was clear that China was not contemplating precipitous action, but rather was looking to see what the new authorities would do and say," he told reporters.

Berger's visit came a little more than a week after Chen Shui-bian, head of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, won a popular presidential election on Taiwan.

Beijing has threatened to attack the estranged island if it attempts to secede, and President-elect Chen has recently muted calls for independence.

The talks -- which touched on bilateral matters including nonproliferation and human rights -- were dominated by the Taiwan issue, with Washington reaffirming its policy that rejects Taiwan independence, but also rejects Beijing's threats of war.

In meetings with President Jiang Zemin Thursday and with Premier Zhu Rongji and other top leaders Wednesday, Berger said Washington adhered to its long-standing "one China" policy.

He also said the issue of reunification must be resolved peacefully and must be based on a formula agreed by both sides of the Taiwan strait, according to the administration official.

Washington would also continue to sell defensive weapons to Taiwan, adjusting sales based on the level of cross-strait tensions, he said.

Beijing has said Chen must accept the "one China" policy, which considers Taiwan and the mainland as parts of a united China, before it will sit down for cross-strait talks.

The policy, long embraced both by Communist-ruled mainland and Nationalist-ruled Taiwan, was created after the 1949 end of a civil war to support each side's claim that it ruled the other.

But as Taiwan began transforming a decade ago from authoritarian state into free-wheeling democracy, it has abandoned dreams of retaking the mainland, and insists Beijing must democratize if the two sides are ever to rejoin.

The Communist party clings to the policy, fearing that failure to reunify the island will fracture the nation into pieces and obliterate the party's mandate to rule.

Chen has offered to visit China on a "journey of peace" to ease tension with the giant neighbor, and has even invited President Jiang to visit Taipei.

But he has so far resisted embracing the "one China" formula.

Berger urged Beijing to be flexible in how it defines the formula, which historically has been left vague.

"Patience, flexibility and creativity in addressing cross straits issues was one of the primary messages that we relayed on this trip," the U.S. official said.

"It's entirely possible that the two parties on either side of the straits can come up with a mutually acceptable definition," he said.

Berger was unable to re-establish a dialogue with China on human rights and weapons non-proliferation, the official said. China suspended those dialogues after a NATO warplane bombed the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia last May.

Chinese leaders instead took the opportunity to needle Berger over Washington's decision to sponsor a U.N. resolution condemning Beijing's 1999 human rights record.

The two sides "agreed to disagree" about the resolution, which Washington is planning to present to the U.N. human rights forum in April, the official said.

Berger and several members of his entourage were to leave for Washington Thursday. Assistant Secretary of State Stanley Roth, who was also part of the delegation, was heading to Japan Friday to brief Tokyo about the China talks.