The United States Tuesday reaffirmed its commitment to a one-China policy, recognizing only Beijing, after a brief conversation and handshake in Panama Monday between Secretary of State Colin Powell and Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian. The encounter figured in a phone conversation Tuesday between Mr. Powell and Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing.

The call was initiated by the Chinese Foreign Minister. But State Department officials went to great lengths to try to dispel the notion that his intent was to protest Mr. Powell's contact with the Taiwanese leader.

A senior diplomat in Washington D.C. said the issue came up only in passing in a conversation dominated by the North Korean nuclear issue, and that they discussed the matter in a "friendly way."

Mr. Powell said Monday he shook hands and exchanged pleasantries with Mr. Chen at a diplomatic reception in Panama celebrating that country's 100th anniversary of independence.

Secretary Powell is believed to have been the highest-ranking U.S. official to speak to a Taiwanese leader since the United States switched its diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to the Beijing government in 1979.

But briefing reporters in Washington D.C., State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said the encounter did not constitute a meeting or discussion, and did not signal any change in U.S. China policy.

"Our policy on China has not changed. We remain committed to a one-China policy and this encounter in no way calls that into question," he said.

Though the United States no longer has diplomatic relations with Taiwan, there are unofficial contacts and it continues to sell Taiwan defensive arms.

It also allows Taiwanese leaders to transit through U.S. territory when necessary on foreign trips, including Mr. Chen, who stopped in New York enroute to Panama.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman in Beijing, asked about the Powell-Chen handshake, said China is "firmly opposed to any form of official contact" between the United States and Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province.