Beijing During a one-day visit by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell Saturday, China agreed to restart a formal dialogue with the United States on human rights and consult with American experts on weapons proliferation, two subjects that have dogged bilateral relations for more than a decade.
As the two countries tried to move beyond recent tensions and prepare for an October visit by President Bush, Chinese officials went out of their way to avoid criticizing the United States. Powell tried to avoid describing China as a "strategic competitor," a phrase Bush used during his election campaign that worried Chinese leaders.
But clear and substantial differences remained between the two countries on both human rights and weapons proliferation as well as on U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, a Chinese missile buildup on its coast opposite Taiwan, and the Bush administration's plans to build a missile defense system that could neutralize China's small arsenal of nuclear weapons.
Powell, the most senior Bush administration official to visit China, met separately with three key Chinese leaders President Jiang Zemin, Premier Zhu Rongji and Deputy Prime Minister Qian Qichen and tried to convince them that the U.S. missile defense system would be limited in nature and would not threaten China's nuclear deterrent.
"They listened carefully and I'm sure we'll have many more conversations on this subject, because they have a different view of it. But that's why friends talk to each other," Powell said.
Powell also said he discussed human rights in every meeting. And he was allowed to tape a 24-minute interview that was broadcast on a state-run national television network on Sunday. In the interview, Powell reached out directly to the Chinese people, reassuring them that the United States was not their enemy, defending the missile defense plan, and urging China to address human rights concerns and establish a just legal system.
Asked whether he saw China as a partner or an enemy, Powell declined to use either word, saying both would be a simplification. But he said: "We view China as a very important nation that is going through a period of transformation. We want to help with that transformation. We view China as a friend, not as an adversary."
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi declined to repeat China's long-standing objections to the missile defense plan, saying instead that the government's position had not changed but that China was willing to continue discussions on the subject. He also declined to respond to Powell's criticism of China's human rights record and its legal system. Chinese officials usually condemn such criticism as meddling in the country's internal affairs and sometimes recite a laundry list of problems in American society.