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US, Chinese Military Officials Hold Talks on Defense Cooperation, Taiwan

U.S. and Chinese military officials have met in Beijing for talks on building cooperation. the topic of Taiwan was high on the agenda.

A delegation led by Richard Lawless, the U.S. deputy undersecretary of defense, met with Chinese military officials for what both sides described as a an "official policy dialogue." The talks started on Monday and touched on issues including counterterrorism, regional security, and rising tensions in the Taiwan Strait.

China used the occasion to remind the United States that it considers Taiwan the most important factor in Sino-U.S. relations. Beijing objects to the United States' role as the number one weapons supplier to the island.

Relations with Washington are further strained because the United States has pledged to defend the island against an attack by the mainland.

China claims Taiwan as a part of its territory and has threatened to invade the island if it moves toward independence.

Yet another irritant is U.S. opposition to the proposed lifting of the European Union's 15-year-old embargo on weapons sales to China. Some in Washington fear new European weapons could help Chinese forces attack Taiwan, and by extension, any U.S. forces that might be called to defend the island. At a regular briefing Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan called the U.S. position "groundless."

Mr. Kong says the lifting of the embargo will not compromise the interests of any third party. He says Beijing hopes that no third party, including the United States, will stand in the way on the issue.

Chinese officials said the issue of Washington's opposition to the lifting of the embargo did not come up in conversations between U.S. and Chinese military officials this week.

The talks, which concluded Tuesday, are the latest in a series of military-to-military contacts between the United States and China over the past year.

Relations have recovered gradually after a deep freeze that resulted from the 2001 collision between a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft and a Chinese fighter jet, in which the Chinese pilot was killed.