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China to Push for End of US Arms Sales to Taiwan - 2003-12-03

China says its prime minister will push the United States to stop arms sales to Taiwan when he visits Washington next week. Taiwan and trade are expected to top the agenda next week when Prime Minister Wen Jiabao visits Washington - the highest-level visit by Chinese officials since the country's new leadership took office in March.

U.S. officials may seek to focus talks on shrinking a ballooning trade deficit, but Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhou Wenzhong says Taiwan will be the main issue for China.

Briefing reporters Wednesday ahead of the prime minister's visit, Mr. Zhou said China considers Taiwan the most important and sensitive issue between Beijing and Washington. He says China hopes Washington will honor its commitment to abide by a one-China policy and oppose any Taiwanese moves toward independence. Mr. Zhou says China also hopes the United States will stop selling advanced weapons to Taiwan and stop promoting its relations with the island's government.

The United States is Taiwan's main weapons supplier and has pledged to defend the island if China attacks. Chinese officials have become increasingly nervous over moves by Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian to call an independence referendum and adopt a new constitution.

China regards Taiwan as part of its territory and has threatened to invade the island if it declares independence. Taiwan has been governed separately since Nationalist Chinese fled there when the communists took over mainland China in 1949.

Tensions have risen since last week when Taiwan's Parliament passed a law allowing the president to call an independence referendum if China threatens to attack. The bill, however, allows the Parliament to block most referendums.

President Chen has further angered China by pledging to call for a referendum to be held on the same day as national elections next March. The United States this week warned Taiwan not to hold an independence referendum.

Mr. Wen will also visit Canada and Mexico on his trip next week before heading to Ethiopia.