Cheney is upbeat on China talks

`An amazing relationship' developing, vice president says after two-day visit

April 15, 2004|By Doyle McManus and Mark Magnier | Doyle McManus and Mark Magnier,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BEIJING - Vice President Dick Cheney met with China's leaders yesterday and said the once-contentious U.S.-Chinese dialogue had become "an amazing relationship" in which the two nations disagreed on some issues but increasingly found ways to cooperate.

In two days of talks, Cheney urged his hosts to put more pressure on North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program, and the Chinese repeatedly complained that the Bush administration was partial to Taiwan, which China considers a province.

Overall, Cheney said his meetings with President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and former President Jiang Zemin left him optimistic about the prospects for further improvement.

"When you look at what has been achieved on both sides, both in the United States and in China, both countries have been doing something right," Cheney told reporters yesterday. "When you think about the enormous scale of the economic relationship now - they are our third-largest trading partner, the amount of investment, the flow of goods and services, the capital - this really is an amazing relationship. It's gone from almost nothing to one of the most significant bilateral relationships anyplace in the world.

"I think it is a mistake for us, as Americans, to underestimate the extent to which there are differences in terms of our approach, in terms of our political systems, in terms of our culture [and] history," Cheney added. "By the same token, I think it's clear that there are broad areas where we share common strategic interests, and that ... there's no reason why we can't achieve a high degree of cooperation and avoid the kind of conflict and confrontation that would be a tragedy for everybody."

Cheney said he could not point to any benchmarks of progress in his talks - "that's not the way it works most of the time," he said - but considered his visit a success in part because the countries could disagree about issues without threatening the relationship.

"I didn't come expecting to alter Chinese policy," he said. "I did come with the mission of making clear what our views were. ... I think we achieved that."

Still, Cheney acknowledged, a large part of the talks focused on issues on which the countries differ: North Korea, Taiwan and human rights. Cheney told the Chinese that the United States believes North Korea is still working on nuclear weapons, and that, as a result, "time is not necessarily on our side," a senior U.S. official said.

The vice president also told the Chinese that Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan had informed Western governments that North Korea was secretly working on a new program to produce weapons using highly enriched uranium, despite Pyongyang's denials.

Cheney repeated his view that North Korea must agree to verifiably dismantle its nuclear program before new aid flows to the regime, said the official, who requested anonymity, noting sensitivity of the talks.

China has not fully endorsed the U.S. position. Although Beijing and Washington oppose the spread of nuclear weapons in Asia, the Chinese have said they believe that disarming North Korea will require some concessions up front - an idea Cheney has rejected.

"To find a settlement, you need to make concessions," said Jia Qingguo, associate dean of international relations at Beijing University. "You can't just say, `Give me this, give me that.'"

On Taiwan, Cheney and the Chinese leaders recited long-standing positions, but with little apparent tension or rancor. China considers the future of Taiwan, which has enjoyed de facto independence since 1949, to be an issue of national pride.

The United States acknowledges that the island is part of China, but insists that Beijing has no right to seize Taiwan by force.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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