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U.S. Defense Chief Aims for More Ties to China's Army : Asia: Perry's Beijing visit is first by Pentagon official of his rank since 1989. He strikes a conciliatory note.


BEIJING — Defense Secretary William J. Perry arrived Sunday in China for a four-day visit that he hopes will help forge a closer military relationship with the world's largest army.

His visit is the first to China by an American defense chief since most military contacts were severed after the bloody 1989 crackdown by People's Liberation Army troops in Tian An Men Square. The official New China News Agency described it as "marking that the military relations between China and the United States have been resumed to a new level."

In his toast at a banquet hosted by Defense Minister Chi Haotian, Perry struck a tone of reconciliation five years after the Tian An Men episode. "These meetings will help our two militaries to build understanding and trust that have been missing for too many years," he said.

According to a Western diplomat here, Perry's agenda includes asking Chinese military officials to increase pressure on China's longtime ally North Korea on the issue of nuclear proliferation.

Perry flew to Beijing from Kuwait, where he told American troops that they had averted another Gulf War by facing down Iraq. During the flight here, Perry told reporters that he intends to raise issues of China's human rights policies and its recently renewed series of underground nuclear tests.

"I will stress that the military relationship is bounded by the political context, which includes human rights," Perry said, according to Reuters news agency.


U.S. defense industry representatives based in Beijing hope the secretary's visit will pave the way for eventual sales of military-related technology to the huge Chinese market.

"They want technology that can be used for civilian purposes but that can also have military applications," the Western diplomat said. Included on the Chinese technological wish list are air-traffic control devices, automated command-and-control communications systems and robotic production systems.

"They are interested in anything in the area of automation," the diplomat said.

Amid rumors that China's 90-year-old senior leader, Deng Xiaoping, is near death, the visit also comes at a propitious moment to establish relationships with top officials, both military and civilian, who are likely to play a role in the post-Deng succession period as China struggles to find a new leader.

In fact, some Chinese officials are hoping the Perry visit foreshadows an eventual visit to China by President Clinton. Supporters of Chinese President and Communist Party chief Jiang Zemin argue that a Clinton visit would help cement Jiang's position as Deng's successor in the uncertain period that always follows the death of a Chinese leader.

Before the banquet hosted by Chi at the Great Hall of the People, Perry met with most of China's top brass at a military museum reception. Although the official purpose of his visit is to attend a session of a joint Sino-U.S. Commission on Defense Conversion, Perry will also meet with Premier Li Peng and Jiang.

In addition, on Tuesday he is scheduled to deliver a speech and answer questions from Chinese senior military officers at the National Defense University. Wednesday, after meeting with Jiang in Wuhan, Perry is scheduled to preside over a ceremony at the Gen. Joseph W. Stilwell Museum in Chongqing, the former U.S. World War II military headquarters.

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