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Qian fails in his mission

Qian Qichen
Qian is likely to put more emphasis on the 'commercial card.'  

HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- Sino-American ties are headed for more uncertainty after Vice Premier Qian Qichen failed to get a commitment from senior U.S. officials on issues including Taiwan and the anti-missile system.

Both Qian and hosts, including President George W. Bush, have accentuated the positive aspects of bilateral relations and avoided dwelling on differences.

For example, Qian has reiterated that the two countries should "take the long term view and seek common points of interest while adequately handling the differences."

Or as Bush put it while talking to reporters: "There will be areas where we can find agreement, such as trade. There will be some areas where we have some disagreements."

The vice premier in particular, has stayed away from the shrill rhetoric that colleagues such as Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxun have used in warning Washington of the dire consequences of selling sophisticated weapons to Taiwan.

While Qian has impressed U.S. officials, congressmen and businessmen with the smiling face of Chinese diplomacy, his visit will not be deemed a success by the Beijing leadership until he has secured some form of guarantee that Bush will not treat China more harshly than former President Bill Clinton.

Take Taiwan, which Qian has said is the "most sensitive issue in Sino-U.S. ties."

Neither Bush nor other senior officials have repeated the pledge, made by Clinton in 1998, that Washington supports the 'three nos policy' -- 'no' to Taiwan independence; 'no' to one China, one Taiwan; and 'no' to Taiwan joining international bodies that require statehood for membership.

The State Department earlier this week merely re-stated that the U.S. would observe the one China policy, period.

A key mission of Qian is to prevent Washington from selling hi-tech weapons to Taiwan such as destroyers equipped with Aegis radar equipment, which could be incorporated into an Asia-based theatre missile defense system.

However, Bush and other officials simply told Qian that the U.S. would continue to sell arms to Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act, adding what types of weapons to be sold was a matter between Washington and Taipei.

Diplomatic analysts in Beijing and Washington said while it was likely Bush would follow Clinton's lead and postpone the decision on the Aegis destroyers, it was equally probable Taiwan could procure fairly sophisticated reconnaissance and surveillance gear in addition to other weaponry.

In the broader arena, Bush and his aides have refrained from any mention of the agreement reached between President Jiang Zemin and Clinton in 1997 and 1998, that the two countries should forge a "constructive, strategic partnership geared toward the 21st century."

Analysts said that during the visit, Qian and his party saw and heard nothing that would contradict Beijing's perception that the Bush administration would in its Asian policy put more emphasis on traditional allies such as Japan and South Korea.

The analysts added it was likely that Qian and his colleagues would henceforth put more emphasis on playing the "commercial card."

This is a reference to Beijing's effort to persuade the U.S. corporate community that, in order to seize unprecedented business opportunities in China, it should lobby Washington to pursue a more friendly China policy.

While talking to the business community in New York, Qian pledged Beijing would participate positively in the process of economic globalization while dangling the prospects of a 1.3 billion people market.

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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