Chinese President Jiang Zemin heads to Texas this week to meet with President Bush at his home. Despite the relaxed atmosphere of President Bush's ranch, the two leaders will grapple with some tough issues, from rogue nations with nuclear arms to a long-standing dispute over Taiwan.
Analysts say President Jiang welcomed the rare invitation to the Bush ranch because it reinforces the image he likes to project of himself as a statesman close to key world leaders.
Their meeting on Friday will be the third for these two presidents in just a year. The Chinese Foreign Ministry official in charge of relations with North America, He Yafei, says frequent talks are a good sign. "It indicates a closeness not only of a personal relationship between the two leaders, but also a mature and close relationship between the two countries." The closeness of recent months comes in part because of Beijing's support for Washington's war on terrorism. Still, several difficult issues could test the new relationship, including differences between China and the United States over what to do about Iraq's alleged store of weapons of chemical and biological weapons.
Washington wants a United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing it to use force if Iraq blocks U-N efforts to search out banned weapons. Beijing argues a second resolution would be needed before any military action. China has a veto in the Security Council, so no resolution will pass without Chinese approval, putting President Jiang in a position to ask for concessions from Washington on other issues. But the Foreign Ministry's Mr. He says Beijing would not be so crass. "We are not linking the Iraq issue with other issues. And we are making our judgments on the issue purely on the merits of the issue itself."
Iraq promised to give up its weapons at the end of the Gulf War. But U.N. experts say Iraq lied and hid its banned programs to make nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. While Iraq tops U.S. concerns, Saint Louis University Asia scholar Tim Lomperis says China has a different agenda. "Obviously for the Chinese, the top on their list is the continuing of their objectives on Taiwan."
Taiwan split politically from mainland China at the end of a civil war in 1949. China has threatened to use its military to force the island to return to mainland control. Washington is pledged to help defend the democratic island from unprovoked attack and sells weapons to the government there. Mr. Bush's administration has approved new weapons sales, including naval vessels, to Taiwan.
The warming relationship between Washington and Beijing's bitter rival deeply worries China. Scholars say China wants reassurances that relationship will not get any closer. While they expect tough talks over Taiwan and Iraq, each side has recently offered gestures to improve the atmosphere for the talks.
Washington often criticizes China's human rights practices, such as jailing people for expressing unapproved political or religious ideas. To deflect such criticism at the summit, China has released several political prisoners from Tibet, including a Buddhist nun sentenced to decades in jail for pro-independence activities.
Recently, Washington took administrative action against a Muslim separatist group that Beijing says threatens its Xinjiang region. Analysts say the U.S. action was minor, but it represents a sharp change from the previous U.S. focus on Chinese human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
Relations between Washington and Beijing may strengthen further as they cope with North Korea's nuclear weapons program, which the United States revealed last week. The United States fears the weapons might be used against Japan or South Korea. China is one of North Korea's few friends and advocates a nuclear-free Korean peninsula and a peaceful settlement to this issue.
There is already an intense U.S. diplomatic effort to get China to use its influence to get Pyongyang to stop work on bombs. That effort will undoubtedly continue right through the Texas summit.