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2002 Good Year for US-Sino Relations - 2002-12-15

Relations between China and the United States were unusually good this past year, as the two countries overcame disputes to cooperate against the new threat of global terrorism.

U.S. Ambassador Clark Randt says ties between China and the United States are "the best they have ever been." That is a big change from April, 2001, when Washington and Beijing were trading angry accusations over a collision between Chinese and American military planes. A Chinese pilot died in the accident, and China held the crew of the U.S. navy plane in custody for a week and a half.

Terrorism seems to have been the galvanizing factor that helped Washington and Beijing minimize their long-standing differences in favor of cooperation. China's President Jiang Zemin helped repair tense relations by offering condolences along with political and intelligence help after the September 11 terror attacks on the United States last year. U.S. officials also appreciated Beijing's efforts to persuade Pakistan to work with the United States in rooting out al-Qaida terrorists in Afghanistan.

The new global terrorism threat prompted President Jiang and President Bush to meet three times over the past year, establishing a new level of communication. President Jiang has said all that talking led to a new and better understanding.

Speaking at an October summit at Mr. Bush's Texas ranch, President Jiang said that in spite of differences between China and the United States, the two nations have more common interests than disputes.

One of those shared concerns is the renewed effort by China's neighbor, North Korea, to build nuclear weapons. Experts say Pyongyang's efforts could prompt South Korea or Japan to respond by building their own nuclear bombs - raising Chinese concerns about a regional arms race.

China and the United States also have a growing economic relationship, with the United States buying 40 percent of China's exports. Americans too provide a key source of investment and technology for China.

President Jiang said good relations with the United States allow China's leaders to focus on building their country's economy.

But Ambassador Randt says despite the generally warm relations there are many issues - including human rights, weapons proliferation, and Taiwan - where there are deep disagreements. "The United States' strategic and other interests are shared by China in many important areas," he says. "In other areas however, Chinese positions and practices continue to be at odds with fundamental United States interests and values."

Historically, communist China and the United States have viewed each other with suspicion. Washington and Beijing supported opposite sides in the Korean War in the 1950's and fear of Chinese military intervention was a worry for U.S. leaders during the Vietnam War.

More recently, U.S. weapons sales to Taiwan have angered China. Beijing claims sovereignty over the democratic island and wants the territory brought under central government control, by force if necessary.

The United States also thinks China violates human rights in its treatment of ethnic minorities, religious groups, and political dissidents. Washington has complained that China does too little to keep its missile and weapons technology from spreading outside the country. But under this new warming relationship, China has moved to allay U.S. concerns by legislating and tightening export controls.

Some of these disputes are generating a flurry of diplomatic activity this month as both sides send envoys back and forth in search of common ground.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao says the two sides are holding high-level military talks in Washington as well as a "human rights dialogue" in Beijing in an effort to reduce differences on these key issues.