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Digging with Two Spades

While US president Bush and his Chinese counterpart seek to reaffirm their common interests, relations between the two countries are still marred by a number of disagreements.

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"One cannot expect to dig with one spade" - Jiang Zemin on co-operation with the US in the fight against terror

US president George W. Bush made a strong case for human rights after talks with Chinese president Jiang Zemin in Beijing on Thursday.

Speaking at a joint conference, he thanked China for support in the fight against terrorism but also called for more religious freedom in China.

Bush said the talks had been "very candid and positive" but he stressed his belief that people "should be free to choose how they live, how they worship and how they work".

Twice Jiang declined to answer questions from US reporters on the subject of religion, in particular the recent arrest of several Catholic bishops. But he eventually referred to the matter saying it would be up to the judicial system to decide what happened to them and that they had been arrested "because they broke the law, not because of their religious beliefs."

Responding to accusations that China persecuted people due to their religious beliefs, Jiang Zemin said "all our constitutions, various versions, have provided for the freedom of religious belief".

A historic visit

The meeting came 30 years to the day Richard Nixon paid a historic first visit by a US president to communist China.

At the conference, Jiang Zemin said he wanted to boost ties between the two countries and accepted an invitation to visit the US in October.

The Chineese Premier also said that he is prepared to offer greater assistance in sharing intelligence as part of the US-led fight against terrorism. Refering to a Chinese proverb, he said "one cannot expect to dig with one spade".

However, questioned on China’s attitude to a forced regime change in Iraq, Zemin avoided any detailed remarks, simply stating China’s firm opposition to international terrorism of all forms.

"We discussed stepping up our co-operation, regardless of certain political differences," he said.

No deal in sight

And plenty of differences prevail between the two former Cold war foes.

At the news conference Bush urged China to "strongly oppose" arms proliferation, alluding to China's export of ballisitic missile technology to countries including Pakistan.

"My government hopes that China will strongly oppose the proliferation of missiles and other deadly technologies," Bush said.

Beijing, however, is unhappy about US plans for a missile defence system that China fears will lessen the deterrent effect of its weapons.

A much hoped for agreement on Chinese weapons sales and exports of sensitive military technology does not now appear likely to be signed during the president's visit.

Speaking to reporters after the press conference, a top US official said although talks were proceeding well no deal had been struck by the two leaders, adding that a deal would not be ready ahead of the president's return to Washington.

Senior administration officials had hoped China would commit to fully implement a November 2000 agreement to curb exports of missile and other sensitive weapons technology.

Hopes for closer co-operation

Despite prevailing differences, analysts believe relations - which hit a low last March when China impounded a crashed US spy plane - will remain friendly with the new alliance between the two countries in the war against terrorism.

Bush’s Beijing visit is the third and last stage of a six-day Asia tour.

Earlier Thursday, Bush arrived in the Chinese capital from Seoul, where he held talks with South Korean leaders and took a look across the border at North Korea - one of three countries he has said forms an "axis of evil."

Referring to the Korea stage of his tour the American president said he had asked his Chinese counterpart to help convey a message to North Korea that the United States is willing to sit down for talks with the communist leadership.

"We would be willing to meet with the North Korean regime and I asked his (Zemin) help to convey that message to Kim Jong-il if he so chooses".

Jiang said later he welcomed a renewal of contacts between the US and North Korea.

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