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China ramps up tone in disputes with US

by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Feb 5, 2010
China on Friday stepped up the pressure on the United States, voicing fresh anger over an upcoming visit to Washington by the Dalai Lama and pledging a response to a giant US arms sale to Taiwan.

With relations between the two nations deteriorating over a set of disputes, China said that it made a "solemn representation" to Washington about President Barack Obama's upcoming meeting with the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled leader.

"China resolutely opposes the visit by the Dalai Lama to the United States, and resolutely opposes US leaders having contact with the Dalai Lama," foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said, as quoted by the state Xinhua news agency.

In a separate broadside, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told a meeting of the Munich Security Conference Friday that a recently announced US arms sale to Taiwan was "obviously a violation of the code of conduct between nations."

"Of course the Chinese government and the people have to react. It is within its sovereign right to do what is necessary," Yang said in a speech.

"I think the Chinese people and the government of every region should feel indignant about this thing," he said.

The Pentagon a week ago approved a 6.4 billion-dollar package of weapons to Taiwan including a Patriot anti-missile system and Black Hawk helicopters. Beijing responded angrily at the time and threatened to punish US companies involved.

Despite political pressure at home, Obama avoided meeting the Dalai Lama when the Buddhist monk was in Washington last year, in an apparent bid to set relations off on a good foot with Beijing early in his presidency.

Obama however told Chinese leaders during his trip to Beijing that he planned to meet with the Dalai Lama, who is widely respected in the United States but branded a separatist by Beijing.

The Dalai Lama will visit Washington from February 17, according to his office in India where he fled into exile in 1959.

The White House confirmed on Thursday that Obama would meet him in the Dalai Lama's capacity as a spiritual leader.

In response, the foreign ministry spokesman said Friday: "We urge the US to realize the high sensitivity of Tibet-related issues, to seriously treat with China's stance and concern, not to permit the Dalai Lama's visit and not to arrange meetings between him and US leaders so as to avoid further undermining China-US ties."

Obama in his first year in office laid out a vision for broader relations between the world's biggest developed and developing nations, saying cooperation was vital on issues from climate change to the global economy.

But the Obama administration has also said it would stick to US policy on key disputes including support to defend Taiwan, which China considers a territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.

Despite the frictions, the United States says it is pursuing cooperation with China.

William Burns, the State Department's number three, held a 90-minute conference call Friday with envoys from China, Russia and Europe on trying to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions, department spokesman Philip Crowley said.

China is a veto-wielding member of the Security Council and has hesitated to step up pressure on Iran, which insists that its sensitive uranium enrichment work is for peaceful civilian purposes.

Yang, speaking in Munich, said China wanted a "mutually acceptable formula" to resolve the Iranian nuclear row.

"This issue has entered a crucial stage. The parties concerned should, with their overall long-term interests in mind, step up diplomatic efforts, stay patient and adopt a more flexible, pragmatic and proactive policy," he said.

US and Chinese relations have also been strained over Internet censorship, with Google threatening to leave the fast-growing market over cyberattacks against the email accounts of rights activists.

Ralph Cossa, president of the Pacific Forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that while relations were on a downward spiral, it was uncertain how low they would go.

"Both sides see the benefit in not letting things get too out of hand even as China tries a bit of muscle-flexing, perhaps to -- unwisely -- test the young American president after a year of stock-taking," he said.

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