China recalls envoy from US

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The Independent Online

of Reuters

BEIJING - China announced on Saturday it was recalling its ambassador to the US, plunging troubled relations to their lowest ebb since ties were established 16 years ago.

"The Chinese government has decided to recall Ambassador to the US Li Daoyu to report on his work in view of the current state of Sino-US relations," the Foreign Ministry announced in a terse one-paragraph statement.

Beijing had threatened serious consequences after the US edged open a 16-year ban on visits by leaders of rival Taiwan earlier this month by allowing a private trip by President Lee Teng-hui. It furiously denounced the visit, saying US permission for Lee's trip had gravely damaged relations, established on 1 January 1 1979 after Washington switched recognition to Beijing's Communist government from Nationalist-ruled Taipei.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said: "We very much regret that the Chinese government has chosen to withdraw its envoy from Washington and we hope that his absence from Washington will be temporary. We continue to seek a constructive relationship with a strong, stable and open China." Li told Undersecretary of State Lynn Davis, who is acting secretary while Secretary of State Warren Christopher is in Canada for an economic summit, he was being recalled, Burns said.

US officials appeared privately to be taking heart that Li did not say he was leaving his post permanently. But China's decision to withdraw its ambassador, even temporarily, signalled a sharp deterioration in ties between the two countries.

In contrast, a Foreign Office spokesman announced yesterday that the Chinese Foreign Minister, Qian Qichen, will visit Britain next October.

The visit, the exact dates of which have not yet been fixed, was seen as a sign of improvement in Sino-British relations, which have been strained in the run-up to the reversion of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.