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Hu warns us { May 2 2002 }

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China's Hu Warns U.S. on Taiwan
Last Updated: May 02, 2002 12:50 AM ET
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By Carol Giacomo, Diplomatic Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Chinese Vice President Hu Jintao, on an inaugural visit to Washington, warned on Wednesday that "trouble" over Taiwan could set back improving U.S.-China ties but said the overall trend in the relationship was positive and the future bright.

After talks with President Bush and other key U.S. officials, Hu was feted by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and 600 other American foreign policy elite and businessmen, who crammed a hotel dining room to get a feel for the mystery man who is expected to become China's next leader.

"The question of Taiwan has always been the most important and most sensitive issue at the heart of China-U.S. relations," said Hu, striking a theme that has deep resonance back home.

"Properly handling this question is the key to promoting our constructive and cooperative relations. If any trouble occurs on the Taiwan question, it would be difficult for China-U.S. relations to move forward and retrogression may even occur," he said.

Hu added that selling sophisticated arms to Taiwan, as Bush and his predecessors have done, or "upgrading relations" with Taipei was "inconsistent" with U.S. commitments to China under the three communiques that are the basis for Sino-U.S. ties.

Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province but which has been receiving overt signs of stronger support from the Bush administration, came up in nearly all Hu's meetings.

Spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue later told reporters the talks left Hu "more confident about the future (U.S.-China) relationship" and she termed the visit "very successful... very productive."

CHENEY TO VISIT CHINA

Vice President Dick Cheney accepted Hu's invitation to visit China at an as-yet unspecified date and in talks with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the two sides agreed to resume military exchanges, the spokeswoman said.

Chinese officials signaled in advance that Hu would stress Taiwan, which Beijing says must be reunified with the mainland but which has exerted pro-independence tendencies.

U.S. experts said the only question was how hard Hu would press the issue and whether the message might backfire in Washington, where sympathy for Taiwan, a flourishing free market democracy, is on the rise.

Although the United States has only "unofficial" ties with Taiwan, Taipei's defense minister recently visited Florida to attend a defense industry conference where he held talks with two senior Bush administration officials, upsetting Beijing.

Initial indications were that Hu struck a firm but non-inflammatory tone in his remarks on Taiwan.

Although Beijing has repeatedly said it would use force to prevent Taiwan from becoming independent, spokeswoman Zhang said Hu promised in his U.S. meetings to "try our utmost to achieve a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question."

Asked if Hu was reassured the U.S. would heed his warnings on Taiwan, Zhang said the Americans restated a commitment to a "one China" policy and said they "don't think this (Taiwan) will be a big problem for the Sino-U.S. relationship."

COMING OUT PARTY

The visit by Hu, expected to succeed Jiang Zemin as head of the Communist Party this fall and as China's president in 2003, was a coming out for a man who has never visited the United States and is not well known here.

He was expected to be cautious so as not to jeopardize his heir-apparent status.

Hu held get-acquainted talks with Bush and Cheney that covered human rights, terrorism and China's missile technology exports, as well as Taiwan.

Hu's Oval Office meeting with Bush went on 10 minutes beyond its scheduled 20 minutes. "The meeting was quite good," a smiling Hu, 59, told reporters afterwards.

"The president talked about the importance of U.S.-China relations and said he is pleased with the relationship," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "He noted there may be some disagreements, but he believed they could be addressed productively."

Hu, in his speech, called the talks "candid and constructive" and said he was left with a strong feeling that despite different histories and differences on some issues, China and the U.S. "are eager to see the relationship grow."

Over lunch, Cheney and Hu were joined by Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, Commerce Secretary Don Evans and Labor Secretary Elaine Chao to discuss economic restructuring in China and economic recovery in the United States.

He met with bipartisan members of the U.S. House of Representatives leadership but refused to accept four letters from congressmen that raised human rights issues and urged China to release political prisoners.





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