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Bush, Jiang Call Meeting Productive - 2002-02-21

The presidents of China and the United States say they had a productive meeting in Beijing, despite being unable to narrow differences on several key issues, including the spread of weapons technology.

Chinese President Jiang Zemin and President Bush told reporters in Beijing Thursday that disagreements are natural, but both sides will work to narrow differences.

The two leaders did not secure a deal on weapons proliferation, and acknowledged it may take time. Washington wants China to abide by a November 2000 agreement to stop exporting missiles and nuclear technology to countries such as Pakistan and Iran, and to strengthen enforcement procedures.

President Bush urged China to be a force for peace among its Asian neighbors, specifically to help pressure North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to end his weapons program.

"We would be willing to meet with the North Korean regime, and I asked his [President Jiang's] help to convey that message to Kim Jong Il, if he so chooses. If he speaks to the leader of North Korea, he can assure him that I am sincere in my desire to have our folks meet," the president said.

Mr. Bush also called on China to respect religious freedoms.

"China's future is for the Chinese people to decide. Yet, no nation is exempt from the demands of human dignity. All the world's people, including the people of China, should be free to choose how they live, how they worship and how they work," he said.

Responding to questions from American reporters about China's imprisonment of Catholic bishops, Mr. Jiang said that those detained had broken Chinese law, and that he had no right to interfere in judicial affairs.

The Chinese side also did not appear to make headway on its agenda. President Bush said there will be no change in U.S. policy on Taiwan. This includes U.S. weapons sales to the island, which Beijing considers a renegade province, to be reunited with the mainland.

But overall, both leaders agreed that cooperation in fighting the common threat of terrorism is likely to lead to better Sino-American relations.

Mr. Jiang says that he accepted with pleasure an invitation from President Bush to visit the United States in October, before the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Mexico. He said Vice President Hu Jintao - his likely successor - also will visit Washington this year.

Mr. Bush's two-day trip to Beijing comes on the 30th anniversary of a visit by former President Richard Nixon, which ended decades of hostility between the two countries.