US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held talks with top leaders in Beijing yesterday amid concerns over China's expanding military and its rising tensions with Taiwan.
Her two-day trip came less than a week after China passed an "Anti-Secession" Law which it claims makes it "illegal" for arch-rival Taiwan to declare itself independent, and she was strongly urged by her hosts to back the Chinese line.
"It's a law that opposes and contains the Taiwan independence forces and maintains peace and stability in the Taiwan Straits," President Hu Jintao (
"We hope the United States won't send any wrong signal to the Taiwan splittist forces," he was quoted as saying.
Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) told Rice the Anti-Secession Law was meant primarily to contain forces on Taiwan seeking independence, slammed by Beijing as the greatest threat to peace in the area.
"We hope the United States will understand, respect and support the Chinese legislative action," Wen said according to state radio.
The law is considered "unhelpful" in Washington, but Rice may be the right person to explain the American concerns, according to Paul Harris, an expert on US foreign policy at Hong Kong's Lingnan University.
"Condoleezza Rice, while in the conservative wing of the Bush administration, is also a pragmatist, and in some respects less ideological than some of her peers," he said.
She may try to get across the message that the law is counterproductive, even from China's own perspective, giving a boost to independence-minded forces on Taiwan, Harris said.
"It's Condoleezza Rice's job to convey the message that China's diplomacy has not been very good recently, that it hasn't made the job any easier for the US, and that it hasn't helped China's own aim either," he said.
Another item likely to dominate Rice's talks in Beijing is the effort to restart stalled talks on North Korea's nuclear program involving the two Koreas, China, the US, Japan and Russia.
Hu told Rice that China was willing to work with the other parties to make it possible for the talks to resume at an early date, state TV said.
China, the host of three previous rounds of talks, has been accused of not doing enough to get North Korea back to the negotiating table, but local analysts dismissed the charges as groundless.
"Such allegations show no respect for reason or reality," Wang Yizhou, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the China Daily newspaper.
"Let's make it clear that without Chinese help the six-party talks would never have got started in the first place," he said.
Lingering in the background of Rice's visit are developments in the EU, which seems set to lift an arms embargo in place since the Tiananmen crackdown on demonstrators 16 years ago.
From the US point of view, this is an untimely move, given renewed tensions between China and Taiwan, and China's continued flawed record on human rights, according to observers.
Shortly before departing from South Korea for China, Rice said the EU "should do nothing to contribute to a circumstance in which Chinese military modernization draws on European technology."
"There are concerns about the rise of Chinese military spendings, and potentially Chinese military power and its increasing sophistication," she said.