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Powell: US and China Were Smoothing Relations Before September 11 - 2001-10-18

The top diplomats from China and the United States say the recent terror attacks in the United States have drawn Washington and Beijing closer together. It is a big change for a U.S. administration that came into office viewing China as a strategic competitor.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says that China and the United States were smoothing strained ties even before the September terror attacks. And he says the Bush administration appreciates China's help since the strikes in Washington and New York, including intelligence information and political support.

"Our relationship is thriving in a number of different areas with respect to trade, with respect to the free flow of goods, with respect to accession to the World Trading Organization, with respect to getting behind problems that have existed - for example the plane incident earlier this year, which we worked our way through and got through," Mr. Powell says.

Six months ago, a collision between U.S. and Chinese military planes killed a Chinese pilot and forced the U.S. plane to make an emergency landing in southern China. The U.S. crew was held for 12 days, sparking a diplomatic wrangle that soured relations. Earlier, the mistaken U.S. bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade brought Sino-American ties to a low point.

Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan says things are improving. He spoke through a translator. "There are differences between the two countries. But we must not lose sight of the fact that while there are differences, there are also wide areas of common interest," he says.

Mr. Powell and Mr. Tang met Thursday in Shanghai before the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit Saturday and Sunday. Mr. Tang says the relationship will remain warm as long as the United States does not anger China over Taiwan.

Taiwan has been split politically from mainland China since 1949. Beijing says the island is a rebellious province that should return to central government rule. But the United States has pledged to help defend Taiwan should China decide to use force.

Warmer relations between Washington and Beijing could anger some of the more conservative members of President Bush's party, who view democratic Taiwan with sympathy.

Peking University Professor Zhu Feng says there is a reservoir of anti-American suspicion in China as well.

Professor Zhu says after all the problems between the two countries, it is not easy for the Chinese people to change their view of the United States. He says the Chinese public will gradually warm up toward the Americans now that the two sides share a common enemy - terrorism.