Wed, Aug 08, 2001 - Page 8 News List

US-Sino relations a thorny issue

By Lin Cheng-yi 林正義

After attending the ASEAN Regional Forum in Shanghia, US Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Beijing for just one day -- although the trip was aimed at reciprocating Chinese Vice Premier Qian Qichen's (錢其琛) March visit to the US and paving the way for US President George W. Bush's scheduled trip to China in October.

Upon his arrival in Beijing on the morning of July 28, Powell held talks with Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan (唐家璇). He then met separately with Qian, Premier Zhu Rongji (朱鎔基) and President Jiang Zemin (江澤民) in the afternoon -- all within three hours. Despite the briefness of his stay, Powell is the highest-ranking official from the Bush administration to visit China so far. His trip was a vital symbol of improvement in US-Sino ties since the mid-air collision between a Chinese fighter jet and a US reconnaissance plane in April.

Powell and Tang basically agreed to arrange a bilateral meeting aimed at strengthening the consultation mechanism on military maritime safety, to resume human rights dialogue between the two governments and to schedule expert consultations on the issue of non-proliferation. They also agreed to hold the US-Sino Joint Economic Committee meeting and the US-Sino Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade meeting before the end of 2001.

The consultation mechanism on military maritime safety is set to discuss a code of conduct in the case of encounters between the two nations' navy and air forces. Since January 1999, Bei-jing has stalled its human rights dialogue with the US and has linked the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to US weapons sales to Taiwan.

Beijing's agreement to reopen the dialogue attests to its eagerness to stop the damage to bilateral relations caused by the plane collision. After the 1999 bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, Beijing banned US warships from making port calls in Hong Kong. The same tactic was repeated in the wake of the collision, but Beijing lifted the ban again as Powell visited China.

The Bush administration has adopted the strategy of separating politics from economics. It keeps a close eye on China in political and military areas, while expanding its cooperation with China on trade and economics. In May, the Bush administration announced the extension of normal trade relations with China for another year and reached an overall consensus with China in June on the remaining problems concerning China's entry into the WTO.

After People's Liberation Army Colonel Xu Junping (徐俊平) defected to the US, Beijing detained two Chinese sociologists in February -- Gao Zhan (高瞻), a US resident, and Li Shaomin (李少民), a US citizen. The detention of the two aroused concerns among the US public, the Congress and Bush. Editorials in The New York Times and The Washington Post criticized China's human rights standards. Congress demanded that Beijing "immediately and unconditionally release Li Shaomin and all other American scholars of Chinese ancestry being held in detention." The first hotline conversation between Bush and Jiang also focused on this issue. Beijing ended up deporting Li and Gao prior to Powell's visit -- an act described by the media as hostage diplomacy.

In dealing with the US, Beijing uses a special strategy of niggling without jeopardizing the relationship. In retaliation for Dutch and French arms sales to Taiwan, China downgraded its diplomatic relations with Holland and forced France to close its consulate general in China. In the cases of the US sales of F-16 fighters and submarines to Taiwan, however, China has had to engage in an overall consideration of the situation before adopting retaliatory measures.

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