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Wed, Feb 28, 2001 - Page 3 News List

Chinese official lightens rhetoric in Washington

HARSH STANCE Although sounding softer on cross-strait issues, the senior Beijing official in charge of Taiwan affairs still maintained a hardline position


China's No. 2 Taiwan affairs official completed the first day of his visit to Washington on Monday, with a softer tone than the strident message he delivered during an earlier stop in New York.

But some officials and scholars who met with the official, Zhou Mingwei (周明偉), during a closed-door luncheon indicated that the message he brought to Washington appeared to be essentially the same hardline address he delivered in New York.

"He tried to talk in a flexible way," said one China specialist who attended the lunch at the Woodrow Wilson Center. "Whether that's where things are really headed is another question," he said.

Another participant at the lunch, which was attended by some two dozen people, agreed. "He was not in any way strident. But the bottom line was not in any way different. It's just a change in tone," he said.

All participants were sworn to secrecy, and would not divulge the substance of Zhou's comments, who is the deputy director of the Taiwan Affairs Office of Beijing's State Council.

In comments in public and private in New York, Zhou warned that the only alternative to the unification of Taiwan and China would be war, derided President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), his government and the DPP, and firmly rejected further US arms sales to Taiwan.

"I don't think the message was any different, but the tone was different," said one China expert who attended Monday's lunch. "I don't think he was here to just emphasize how war is going to follow."

The main purpose of Zhou's visit is to promote overall US-China relations, rather than to deal exclusively with Taiwan issues, the specialist said. But Zhou feels that US arms sales are an important aspect of those overall relations, the specialist said.

Zhou's shockwaves

* Reportedly said the only alternative to unification is war

* Criticized the government of Chen Shui-bian as insincere

* Called the `small three links' `nothing'

* Rejected all US arms sales to Taiwan

"I think China is worried that if this issue is mishandled by the administration, that they will be forced to respond very strongly," and Zhou is seeking "to prevent a further deterioration in Sino-US relations, a deterioration in cross-strait relations that they do not want to see," the specialist said.

"They want to convey the very sincere concern about the impact it's going to have on cross-strait relations and Sino-US relations," he added.

Other participants noted that Zhou spent as much time listening to the luncheon attendees as he did speaking. After the luncheon, he refused to answer journalists' questions.

Zhou also met with US Defense Department officials on Monday, but a meeting at the State Department, originally set for Monday, was put off until later in the week.

State Department officials would not explain the delay. Secretary of State Colin Powell is currently in the Middle East.

Yesterday Zhou was to meet members of Congress and officials of the National Security Council.

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