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Cheney Wraps Up China Trip with Warning About N. Korea's Nuclear Program - 2004-04-15

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney concluded his visit to China Thursday with a warning about North Korea's nuclear weapons program and a reaffirmation of Washington's long-standing policy on Taiwan.

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney capped his visit to China - the second stop on his Asian tour - with remarks to students at Shanghai's Fudan University.

Mr. Cheney voiced what he says are U.S. worries that North Korea could give its nuclear weapons technology to terror groups, such as al-Qaida. He repeated warnings that it is becoming more urgent for North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

U.S. officials say that in meetings with Chinese officials this week, Mr. Cheney cited intelligence reports indicating North Korea may have more advanced bomb-making capabilities than Washington earlier suspected. The reports are based on testimony reportedly given by AQ Khan, a Pakistani scientist believed to have sold nuclear technology to Pyongyang.

The vice president also reaffirmed Washington's policy on Taiwan, which has long been a point of contention in U.S.-China relations. China considers Taiwan a part of its territory, despite the fact that the island has been self-governed since 1949.

Mr. Cheney says the United States recognizes Beijing as the only legitimate government of China.

"The position of the United States has been and continues to be that we do not support Taiwan independence," Mr. Cheney said.

Mr. Cheney, however, says the United States will continue to abide by the Taiwan Relations Act, a domestic law passed in the 1970s in which Washington pledged to defend Taiwan against an attack from the mainland. The United States uses the law as a basis for selling arms to the island, a practice the vice president confirmed, saying Washington is obligated to sell weapons to Taiwan "from time to time."

This rankles Beijing, and Chinese officials this week demanded the United States stop adhering to the law.

Their call came amid continuing tensions between China and Taiwan following presidential elections on the island, where voters last month re-elected President Chen Shui-bian. Beijing believes Mr. Chen may push formal independence, an action Chinese officials have said could lead to war.

In an effort to ease the situation, Mr. Cheney repeated a reassurance made by President Bush in December, when the president warned both China and Taiwan to avoid making any unilateral efforts to change the status quo.

Mr. Cheney's visit to Shanghai capped his trip to China, the second leg of a trip that began in Tokyo Saturday and will end Friday in South Korea.