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Beijing Downplays Reports Taiwan Defense Minister May Visit US - 2002-02-26

China appears to be downplaying reports the United States may allow a top official from Taiwan to visit. In the past, Beijing has reacted angrily on such matters. Beijing's first comment on the reports was unusually mild.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan says China resolutely opposes official ties between the United States and Taiwan, especially in the military field. "He is referring to news reports that Washington may give a visa to Taiwan's Defense Minister, Tang Yao-ming so he can attend a military conference in the U.S. state of Florida next month."

Taiwan broke away from China amid civil war in 1949, and has been ruled separately ever since. Beijing says Taiwan is part of China and has worked hard for decades to isolate the prosperous, democratic island diplomatically.

Beijing opposes any diplomatic links or actions that imply Taiwan is a separate nation from China. Beijing has reacted furiously in the past when Washington granted top Taiwanese officials visas for even the briefest visits to the United States.

This new case is sensitive because the Florida meetings involve major U.S. military contractors and arms suppliers. Under U.S. law, Washington can sell Taiwan enough weapons to defend itself from its huge rival on the mainland. But Beijing has been pushing Washington to reduce arms sales to Taiwan.

The U.S. State Department has not confirmed the reports that a visa will be granted to Taiwan's defense minister.

The controversy follows months of effort by China to improve relations with the United States, which is a major trading partner and investor for China. Last week, President Bush visited China for talks that yielded no major agreements, but which were seen by both sides as warm and successful.