Wed, Nov 07, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Gates assures Hu Jintao US opposes independence

AFP , BEIJING

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates yesterday assured Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) that the US government is "categorically" opposed to any moves by Taiwan towards independence.

Gates met with Hu in Beijing's Great Hall of the People after two days of talks -- characterized by both parties as "candid but friendly" -- that raised US concerns about China's rapid military build-up and Iran's nuclear program.

"I restated our position that we're categorically opposed to any efforts by anyone to unilaterally change the `status quo,'" Gates told reporters after his talks with Hu.

"I basically reiterated that the US government has been quite clear in its messages to Taiwan not to change the `status quo,'" he said, citing Chinese fears of "de jure independence" for Taiwan.

Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) is pushing for a referendum next year on launching a fresh bid for UN membership using the name "Taiwan," rather than the official "Republic of China."

This has touched a raw nerve with China.

The US defense secretary made no apparent headway on Monday on an appeal for Chinese support for sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, and in the meeting with Hu yesterday, the issue did not even come up.

"There are clearly areas of agreement and disagreement," Gates said in introductory remarks as he sat down with Hu.

"Talking about both is good for the relationship, and I think as a result of our conversation we have opportunities to expand the military-to-military relationship," he said.

Hu said, via an interpreter, that the talks in Beijing would "be conducive to deepening trust between us and further development of state-to-state relations."

China has joined Russia, also a veto-wielding permanent member of the UN Security Council, in opposing a further round of UN economic sanctions to step up the pressure against Tehran, which has defied international demands that it halt its uranium enrichment program.

Washington charges that Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons, but Tehran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.

Gates said he had argued earlier in the visit that "an Iran that is a destabilizing force in the region is not in anyone's interest, including in China's."

"If one is interested in long-term energy security then a stable Persian Gulf-Middle East area is a very high priority," he said.

After his talks on Monday with Chinese Minister of Defense Cao Gangchuan (曹剛川), Gates emphasized the need for greater clarity from Beijing about a rapid military build-up that US officials believe is altering the region's balance of power.

"I hope what will come out of it is an ongoing dialogue," Gates told reporters yesterday.

He added it was important the two nations "enter into a longer-term dialogue about perceptions of threats, about a world that faces the threat of nuclear proliferation and perhaps finding some confidence-building measures along the way."

The underlying US aim in seeking such a dialogue is to avoid a misunderstanding between the two nuclear powers, a senior US defense official said.

China has said its annual military budget rose 17.8 percent this year to US$45 billion. But the Pentagon believes China's military spending is as high as US$125 billion a year.

Gates was to leave China yesterday for South Korea and then stop in Japan later in the week.

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