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US, China Hold High-Level Defense Talks - 2004-02-10

A U.S. delegation is in China, where the two nations have opened the highest-level defense consultations in more than a year.

The two-day talks kicked off Tuesday between a delegation led by U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith and Chinese officials. The deputy chief of general staff of the People's Liberation Army, Xiong Guangkai, is among the Chinese officials joining the meetings.

The consultations are the latest in a series of high-level talks in recent months between the United States and China on not only military issues but also on trade, security and health.

Washington and Beijing have been in the process of mending relations, which reached a low point three years ago following a collision between a U.S. Navy spy plane and a Chinese fighter jet.

Although the talks between Mr. Feith and Chinese officials are being held in a cooperative spirit, China did bring up the contentious issue of Taiwan. Beijing has long criticized the United States for selling weapons to the self-governed island, which China considers part of its territory.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue told reporters Tuesday that China would emphasize the issue.

Ms. Zhang said China will reiterate its position to the United States, that it regards Taiwan as the core and most sensitive issue in its relations with Washington.

Tensions have been brewing over the island, which holds presidential elections next month. Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian has angered Beijing by calling for a referendum, an action China interprets as a move toward formal independence. On election day voters will be asked to decide whether Taiwan should boost its defenses if China threatens to use force against the island.

The United States - the biggest supplier of weapons to Taiwan - has sought to calm Chinese concerns by criticizing the plans for a referendum. President Bush recently warned both sides to avoid taking any unilateral action to change the island's current status.