Bush urges Jiang to make China a force for Asian peace

US President puts his arm around Communist host, who serenades him with song of love accompanied by accordian
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The Independent Online

George Bush urged President Jiang Zemin yesterday to make China a "force for peace" in Asia when the two men held what the American leader called wide-ranging, "candid and positive" talks in Beijing.

The meeting came on the 30th anniversary to the day of the breakthrough summit between President Richard Nixon and Chairman Mao that eased global tension, opened up Sino-US trade and began a new era of Cold War dialogue.

Yesterday, another conservative Republican US President stepped off Air Force One in Beijing to meet the head of Red China. By timing his state visit to mark the anniversary, President Bush was highlighting what many believe will be the key bilateral relationship of the 21st century.

As Mr Jiang welcomed Mr Bush with a guard of honour at the Great Hall of the People, Mr Bush put his arm around the Chinese President in one of the warmest moments of what was generally a lukewarm day, until another astonishing performance by Mr Jiang.

The Chinese President leapt into life at the evening banquet, dancing with Bush and serenading the US President in Italian. He stopped the show when he called an accordion player to accompany him in the aria O Sole Mio.

Earlier, Mr Jiang, who also performed for former US president Bill Clinton, had looked rather less confident at a joint press conference shown live on state television. He was apparently caught off-guard by the first question, in which he was asked about religious freedom in China and the jailing of Catholic bishops. Mr Jiang twice failed to respond to the question, and appeared to ignore another question on Iraq.

He eventually defended China's protection of freedom of religion and said anyone imprisoned must have broken the law. "Whatever religion people believe in, they have to uphold the law," he said. US officials said Mr Bush urged Mr Jiang to hold talks with the Dalai Lama and the Vatican.

President Bush said Mr Jiang could promote stability on the Korean peninsula by assuring the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, of American sincerity in offering talks with another "axis" regime. Mr Bush said: "I told the President that I was deeply concerned about a regime that is not transparent and that starves its people. I encourage China to continue to be a force for peace among its neighbours, on the Korean Peninsula, in Southeast Asia, and South Asia."

Mr Jiang accepted an invitation to visit America in October, and the two men renewed their pledged to stand "side by side" in the fight against terrorism, first made in Shanghai last October.

While the Sino-American relationship has risen and fallen like the Great Wall since the Nixon visit in 1972, this rollercoaster ride of mutual accusation has enjoyed a smoother than usual passage in recent months thanks to the US campaign against terror. But the fundamental differences that remain offer fertile ground for pessimism. The relationship is packed with irritants from Taiwan to Tibet and from missile proliferation to America's own plans for missile defence.

No agreements were announced yesterday, and differences were as clear as ever on Taiwan, human rights and religion. The meeting also failed to yield an agreement with China on non-proliferation of missile technology. Washington had hoped Beijing would agree to publish a list of technology and weapons banned from export, if it agreed to lift sanctions preventing transfer of US satellite technology to China.

On Iraq, a member of Mr Bush's "axis of evil" and a potential target for military action, Mr Jiang repeated China's call for caution. "The most important thing is that peace is to be valued most," he said.

Laura Bush toured the vast Forbidden City, China's former imperial palace. Her party entered the maze of ancient pavilions and courtyards through the Gate of Heavenly Peace, still dominated by a portrait of the man who met Mr Nixon, Mao Zedong. Police kept tourists out of Tiananmen Square, between the palace and the hall where the talks and banquets were held.

The square is the site of 1989 pro-democracy rallies and recent Falun Gong protests. Security was tight, but there were no cheering crowds. Many of those who watched the motorcade were Chinese tourists who were only vaguely aware of the visit.