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Chinese leader warns over problems on Taiwan

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The man widely expected to be China's next president told a U.S. audience Wednesday that cooperation between the two countries has proven to be helpful to both countries, and he warned that Taiwan is the central issue in Chinese-U.S. relations.

Chinese Vice President Hu Jintao met Wednesday with President George Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and other U.S. officials. Late Wednesday, Hu spoke before the National Committee on United States-China Relations in Washington.

He cited growth over the last 30 years in Sino-U.S. relations in several areas, including official contacts, tourist and student exchanges, and trade. Hu said China is now the fourth-largest trading partner of the United States, and that the United States is the second-largest trading partner of China.

"History and reality tell us," he said," that cooperation between the U.S. and China will benefit both countries, while confrontation will leave neither unharmed."

The question of Taiwan, he said, "has always been the most important and most sensitive at the heart of U.S.-China relations."

"If any trouble happens on the Taiwan question," he warned, "it would be difficult for China-U.S. relations to move forward, and retrogression may even occur. The question of Taiwan is China's internal matter and should be resolved by the Chinese people on both sides of the Taiwan Straits."

Hu reminded the audience that U.S. administrations since President Richard Nixon have endorsed the so-called "One China" policy. "Selling sophisticated weaponry to Taiwan, or upgrading U.S.-Taiwan relations, is inconsistent with the foregoing commitments," he said.

China's reunification with Macao and Hong Kong should ease concerns about Taiwan, he said, adding that "after reunification, we will even apply more tolerating and accommodating policy towards Taiwan."

Hu also cited Beijing's cooperation with Washington on fighting terrorism in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

He said current relations between the two countries had been arrived at only after many "twists and turns," but he trusted the two could overcome any future problems.

Responding to a question about political reform, Hu said China has been improving its electoral system to make politics more accessible to the Chinese people, but he said China is not aiming to copy the political system of any other country.

Hu defended China's human rights record, saying that more than 100 million people in China now belong to various religions, and that religious freedom is guaranteed by law in China.




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