Perry postpones trip by Chinese official set for next month Defense secretary says a large-scale visit is not appropriate now

March 23, 1996|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - In a new blow to the deteriorating U.S.-Chinese relationship, Defense Secretary William J. Perry pulled the red carpet from under the Chinese defense minister yesterday, suddenly postponing the official's 10-day visit here next month.

The visit would have involvedmilitary ceremonies, talks with administration executives and a tour of U.S. bases. It was meant to symbolize the growing ties between Washington and Beijing and to match the lavish welcome given to Mr. Perry during his official trip to China in October 1994.

Mr. Perry, in a statement, said he remained committed to a constructive dialogue with the Chinese. But, he added, "a large-scale official visit is not appropriate to the current climate."

The postponement was an abrupt reversal of the administration's previous insistence that the visit of Gen. Chi Haotian should take place.

A senior defense official told reporters at the Pentagon that General Chi's visit was canceled because, instead of fostering understanding and demonstrating a will to move forward with the relationship, it would have provoked "controversy."

"It is simply not appropriate in the conditions that prevail right now," said the official. "It isn't meant to say anything other than that we do not believe this is a good moment for such a visit."

A lower-key "working" meeting between Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen remains set for April 21 in the Netherlands, said the official. He added that the defense minister's trip here might even be rescheduled as soon as summer.

"We are certainly open to continued dialogue in a variety of forms," the defense official said.

The postponement came as the USS Nimitz entered the western Pacific on its way to join the USS Independence near Taiwan. The Nimitz is expected to arrive in that area today.

The senior official said no decision had been made on whether to order either of the carrier groups through the particularly sensitive Straits of Taiwan. Beijing has warned that such a voyage would be a major provocation.

"That decision will be based on events and what we think will be appropriate at the time," the U.S. official said.

The United States insists it has the right to sail through the international waters of the Straits.

FTC China has been conducting military exercises, including missile tests, in the straits in advance of Taiwan's first democratic elections today.

The exercises, the U.S. official said, had shown no new Chinese military weapons or tactics "or anything to change our prior assessment of their capabilities." Officials have said the Chinese do not have the ability to launch a successful amphibious assault on Taiwan.

Pub Date: 3/23/96

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