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FBI China office a boost to summit hopes

From CNN Beijing Bureau Chief Jaime FlorCruz

Ashcroft's announcement is expected to improve the atmosphere for talks between Jiang and Bush
Ashcroft's announcement is expected to improve the atmosphere for talks between Jiang and Bush

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BEIJING, China (CNN) -- In what is being viewed as a breakthrough in U.S.-China cooperation against transnational crimes and terrorism, America's top security chief has announced that a FBI office will be set up in Beijing.

"I am pleased to announce that the United States and China have made progress in this area by establishing a legal attaché office for the Federal Bureau of Investigation here in Beijing," U.S. Attorney General Richard Ashcroft said during a diplomatic visit to the Chinese capital.

Chinese-American Tony Lau -- a 20-year FBI veteran – will head the office, charged with seeking Chinese help to combat terrorism.

"That's our highest priority in American law enforcement, and I am pleased to say that I've found a very, very strong note of agreement about the importance of curtailing terrorist activity here among the leaders with whom I have meetings," Ashcroft said.

Ashcroft's announcement is expected to improve the atmosphere when U.S. President George W. Bush holds talks with his Chinese counterpart Jiang Zemin in his Texas ranch this week.

But other items are more likely to dominate the summit agenda.

"First thing from the Chinese side, Jiang Zemin must mention the Taiwan issue. And from the American side, they'll definitely mention the proliferation of the mass destruction weapons," says Yan Xuetong, a professor and Director of the Institute of International Studies at Tsinghua University.

"That's what the U.S. is concerned [about] most. And third thing both sides all care for is the counter-terrorism campaign, or the future counter-terrorism cooperation."

U.S.-China relations were strained when an American spy plane and a Chinese fighter jet collided over Hainan Island in April 2001.

The issue of human rights has also caused friction between the two countries.

But the September 11 attacks have pushed the both sides closer.

"Both sides have cooperated in the United Nations in passing key U.N. Security Council resolutions, related to terrorist financing, for example, and now both sides have agreed to taking the important step of opening up an FBI office in Beijing to better coordinate counter-terrorism cooperation and address other problems related to trans-national crime," says Evan Medeiros, an analyst with Rand Corp.

Beijing says it face threats from terrorist cells which it claims are operating in its northwestern frontier.

China last month held a joint anti-terrorist exercise with its northern neighbor, Kyrgyzstan.

By agreeing to these joint efforts, observers say China is trying to show that it is a responsible member of the global community and that it shares common concerns over organized crimes and terrorism.

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