On Oct. 25, only a week before the US presidential election, US Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Beijing. The travelworn Powell's visit of course served several purposes. So what were these purposes?
First, to warm up ahead of the APEC summit. The 2004 APEC summit will be held later this month, and Powell conveyed US President George W. Bush's wishes to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao (
Second, to discuss US arms sales to Taiwan and a resumption of cross-strait talks. US arms sales to Taiwan was the issue over which China showed most concern during Powell's visit. Powell had said before the trip that the US' "one China" policy remains firm, that the US does not support Taiwanese independence, that Taiwanese independence activities are very dangerous, and that nothing in the US' cross-strait policy has changed.
This has been the consistent US position, and although China should be able to understand it, it remains concerned over US arms sales to Taiwan and US-Taiwan military exchanges. It has repeatedly requested that the US stop sending "wrong signals" that could create the impression in Taiwan that there is an opportunity for independence.
Although the US has already explained its position on countless occasions, China remains unconvinced. The main reason for this is that the US has never given a positive "response" to China's concerns about arms sales to Taiwan.
This was also the reason why China hoped that Powell would clarify the US' position during this trip. I believe, however, that the "six assurances" to Taiwan, which were formulated during former US president Ronald Reagan's time, will not be relaxed at present, even though China will continue pressing the US for a "response" and even a "retreat."
We will have to observe future developments. The US hopes that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait will resume talks and avoid moves toward armed conflict, and that was another important goal for Powell during his visit.
Another point that we should pay attention to is whether talk about China's dismantling the missiles aimed at Taiwan in exchange for the US ceasing its arms sales to Taiwan will be replaced by talk of resumption of cross-strait talks in exchange for the US ceasing its sales of arms to Taiwan.
Third, preparing for the next round of six-nation talks between the US, China, Japan, Russia and North and South Korea. Three rounds of talks have been held in a bid to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis, as of yet unsuccessfully. Recently, information has been leaked regarding North Korea's nuclear development.
Powell of course also undertook his trip in the hope of winning China's support in handling the North Korean issue to restrict and resolve the crisis on the Korean Peninsula, which would be helpful in maintaining peace in the Asia-Pacific.
Powell told Japanese media that the number of people defecting from North Korea reflects the despair of the North Korean population, adding that people want to escape a government that is making their lives hard, not only economically, but also through its disregard for human rights. He was even tougher when talking about North Korean kidnappings of Japanese, and said that only a terrorist state would do such things.