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Powell arrives in China for key talks

Colin Powell
Colin Powell in Seoul tells the media some Russian encouragement would help  

BEIJING, China -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has arrived in Beijing for talks designed to improve China-U.S. relations after a series of security and human rights spats.

The release and expulsion of three U.S.-linked Chinese scholars being held on spying charges cleared the air for the visit of the most senior Bush administration official to visit China.

Powell will meet President Jiang Zemin, Premier Zhu Rongji and Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan.

His tour of Asian and Pacific nations is designed to prepare for a visit to China in October by President George W. Bush.

Saturday's first meeting is with Tang, the second talks with the foreign minister in four days. Hours after Powell and Tang held talks in Hanoi on Wednesday, China said it would give medical parole to two scholars, permanent U.S. residents Gao Zhan and Qin Guangguang. They had been sentenced to 10 years in prison for spying for Taiwan.

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The expulsions began that day when academic Li Shaomin, a U.S. citizen convicted of spying for Taiwan, was put on a flight to San Francisco just before the Powell-Tang talks on the sidelines of a regional security meeting.

Bad start

Bush got off to a bad start with China because of the scholars and the April 1 collision of a U.S. spy plane and a Chinese fighter jet, which led to an 11-day diplomatic standoff that inflamed nationalist sentiment in both countries.

Powell has said he would look into the cases of a handful of other Chinese scholars with links to the United States -- and raise wider human rights issues with Beijing, including the system under which the academics were arrested. Tang and Powell emerged from their one-hour talks in Hanoi sounding upbeat, with Powell declaring an "upswing" in relations and Tang speaking of "new opportunities for progress."

The Hanoi meeting discussed non-proliferation, but did not cover Bush's plan to build a missile defence shield, which China stridently opposes. Powell told reporters he would explain the controversial U.S. program in Beijing.

One potential irritant emerged on Friday when the Washington Post reported that the United States believed China continued exports of missiles and related technology to Pakistan and other countries in violation of a pledge it made to the United States.

Asked about the allegations at a news conference in South Korea, Powell said he had not yet seen the report but that Chinese compliance with the November 2000 accord had been "mixed -- some success and some areas that need improving."

"I will be taking this up with the Chinese authorities in due course," he said.

Better export control

A senior State Department official in Seoul, speaking on condition of anonymity, declined to confirm which, if any, countries the United States believed China had transferred missile technology to.

"They told us in Hanoi that they were putting in place a better export control system and that's obviously one of the things we'll want to talk to them about," he said.

Seoul protest
A protester is collared by police in Seoul  

Asked about the non-proliferation issue in Hanoi, a Chinese official said Beijing was willing to discuss it but also wanted talks to cover U.S. sales of advanced arms to China's rival Taiwan.

In April, Bush riled China by announcing a robust arms sales package for Taipei and vowing to do "whatever it takes" to defend the island in the event of an attack by China.

Beijing claims Taiwan as part of its territory and has threatened military action against the island if it declares independence or drags its feet on reunification talks.

Activists have appealed to Powell to press Chinese leaders to free jailed dissidents and improve human rights.

"The Bush administration must seek concrete improvements," Amnesty International USA said in a statement. "The scale of China's human rights problem cannot be hidden."

According to the group, China is holding at least 6,000 political prisoners, including pro-democracy and labor activists, Roman Catholic priests and members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.

Missiles cutbacks

In Vietnam, Powell said the U.S. is prepared to meet with North Korea any time, any place and to discuss any issue Pyongyang wishes to raise.

The U.S. is willing to help North Korea economically if the government in the capital of Pyongyang agrees to cut back its missiles and conventional forces.

During meetings with the South Korean government, Powell offered reassurances of U.S. support for their efforts to reach out to the North.

Powell also met with Gen. Thomas Schwartz, commanding general of the combined U.S.-South Korean Forces, for an update on the military balance on the peninsula.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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