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US, China Prepare for Non-Proliferation Talks

U.S. and Chinese officials are preparing for talks about a series of disputes between the two nations, including allegations that Beijing is sharing nuclear weapons technology with other nations. China's leaders have taken great pains lately to try to ease relations with Washington.

The first set of talks is set to begin August 23 and will focus on nonproliferation issues. At issue is Washington's assertion that China is breaching a promise it made last year not to share nuclear secrets with other nations, specifically Pakistan.

While China denies the allegation, it is expected to be on the agenda next week in meetings between Chinese officials and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Non-Proliferation Issues Vann Van Diepen.

Talks on another sticky issue could convene as early as this month. A special commission will meet to work out ways to avoid future midair collisions like the one in April between a U.S. surveillance plane and a Chinese fighter over the South China Sea. The incident sparked a diplomatic wrangle that soured U.S. / Chinese relations for months.

The deadly collision destroyed the Chinese plane, killed its pilot and forced U.S. aircraft to make an emergency landing in southern China. The crew was held for 12 days, and Beijing insisted that the plane be hauled - not flown - out of China. The two countries are still haggling over the bill for housing the air crew and helping the contractors who disassembled the plane. Beijing says those services are worth $1 million, while Washington is offering $34,000.

All these arguments follow last week's unusual Chinese effort apparently aimed at smoothing relations with Washington. At the suggestion of Chinese officials, journalists from The New York Times conducted a rare interview with Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

A Chinese official says one of President Jiang's goals was to influence the China policy developing in the new Bush Administration and make it clear that Beijing and Washington can be competitors without clashing. President Jiang offered no changes in Chinese positions, but the New York Times story portrayed Mr. Jiang as warm, reasonable and eager to work for better relations with the United States.

Some analysts say good relations with Washington would help Beijing weather a period of political and economic uncertainty expected in the next couple of years as Mr. Jiang and other senior leaders retire and China joins the World Trade Organization.