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The World

Washington Extends an Olive Twig to China With Military Visit

Diplomacy: High-level Pentagon official meets with army chiefs, another small step toward reviving ties.

June 27, 2002|CHING-CHING NI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BEIJING — A high-level Pentagon official met with army commanders here Wednesday in an effort to resurrect U.S.-Chinese military contacts, taking another baby step on the road to better ties after last year's spy plane crisis.

Peter Rodman, assistant defense secretary for international security affairs, came to Beijing on the heels of last month's visit to Washington by Chinese Vice President Hu Jintao, the heir apparent to China's top post.

Hu's meeting with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld at the Pentagon appeared to signal that a better U.S.-Chinese military relationship was on the horizon.

Rodman met with Vice Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing and a high-ranking general in the People's Liberation Army, Xiong Guangkai, according to the U.S. Embassy. Rodman is expected to confer today with Defense Minister Gen. Chi Haotian.

"The talks dealt candidly with problems that had arisen in the past," the embassy said in a statement. "No agreement was intended to be reached on this visit."

The former Cold Warriors were never cozy, but the relationship suffered a serious blow last year after a U.S. surveillance plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet off the southern Chinese coast, killing the Chinese pilot.

After that, already limited military contacts, from academic conferences to student exchanges and military installation tours, became even more rare.

In 1999, a U.S. warplane accidentally bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, putting a damper on already lukewarm ties then.

Washington's focus on the war on terrorism may have deflected attention from a perceived Chinese threat. But Washington wants Beijing to show more reciprocity if it is to become a true partner.

The United States has long complained that Chinese military officials don't offer the same degree of access and openness as the Americans during their exchanges. Beijing argues, however, that such access isn't possible until the two are on a more level playing field.

"America is so strong; China is so weak. How can you demand total equality?" asked Xia Yishan, senior research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies here. "America has more than 6,000 nuclear warheads. China has a few more than 20. How can you talk about equal openness?"

But the main obstacle between the two countries remains their differences over Taiwan.

Beijing considers the island a renegade province that China could take back by force if necessary. The Bush administration, however, has pledged to defend the island if it is attacked.

Until the two see eye to eye on this volatile issue, Chinese observers say, it's hard to be too optimistic about future relations.

"I hope America can help facilitate a peaceful resolution to the issue of Taiwan," Xia said. "If they can take a step in that direction, it would do more than anything else in advancing U.S.-China relations."

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