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Taiwan arms a hot topic with China

Chinese envoy to talk with Bush after Powell meeting

WASHINGTON — A top Chinese envoy is heading into talks with President Bush after a meeting with Secretary of State Colin Powell that highlighted differences over arms sales to Taiwan.

A senior State Department official, briefing reporters Thursday, said Qian told Powell in their meeting Wednesday night that U.S. arms sales policy was not consistent with a 1982 agreement with China.

But Powell maintained the administration abides by the agreement and that U.S. policy is driven by its assessment of Taiwan's security and regional stability requirements.

The senior official, asking not to be identified, said the meeting was constructive and at times "very congenial" as the two diplomats covered the broad range of U.S.-Chinese relations.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Bush would "raise concerns about the human rights situation" in China during his Thursday afternoon meeting with Qian, aware that a Chinese-born scholar from American University in Washington has been detained by Chinese police for nearly six weeks. That subject was discussed by lower level U.S. and Chinese officials when Powell met with Qian.

At issue over Taiwan is the prospective sale to the island of four U.S. destroyers with highly sophisticated radar equipment.

Going into his meeting with Qian, it was not clear whether Powell was prepared to address the issue in any depth because the State Department has said it is long-standing U.S. policy not to consult with China on U.S. arms sales policy toward the island.

Later, Chinese spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue called the Powell-Qian discussions "useful and constructive."

Asked about the discussions on weapons sales for Taiwan, she noted that the United States committed itself in August 1982 to refrain from advanced weapons sales to Taiwan.

She did not give a direct answer when asked whether the proposed destroyer sales with the Aegis radar system were in that category.

"I think you know the answer to that," she told a questioner. She also said the 1982 agreement has a requirement that U.S. weapons sales in any year not exceed sales from previous years either qualitatively or quantitatively.

Zhang did not say directly whether the subject had come up in Qian's talks with Powell.

The U.S. official who briefed on Thursday indicated that the subject was not explored in depth.

He said Qian restated China's intention that the Taiwan issue be settled peacefully and Powell agreed that whatever is done should be done peacefully, the official said.

In Taiwan on Thursday morning, Foreign Minister Tien Hung-mao told reporters that Washington has "guaranteed" Taiwan that China would not influence the U.S. decisions about arms sales to Taiwan.

"The American government has told us that the decision would be completely based on the Taiwan Relations Act and Taiwan's defense needs," Tien said.

The 1979 Taiwan Relations Act requires the United States to provide Taiwan with weapons necessary for its defense.

On Tuesday, Qian warned that Chinese-American relations would suffer a "very serious" setback if Taiwan receives permission to buy the destroyers.

Taiwan wants the vessels but the administration has offered no hint whether the request will be approved.

On the Net:

State Department background on China