US President George W Bush today arrived in Beijing, China, on the final leg of his Asia tour and said the country was lending ‘‘steady and strong support’’ to the US-led war on terrorism.
High on Mr Bush’s agenda with Chinese President Jiang Zemin is preventing the sale of missile and nuclear technology to nations such as Iran and Pakistan. The two leaders hoped to complete an agreement during their meetings in Beijing, a senior White House official said.
Jiang greeted Mr Bush at the Great Hall before a contingent of 40 uniformed Chinese soldiers. They reviewed the ceremonial honour guard and shook hands with members of each others’ delegations, then went behind closed doors for their talks.
Under the potential nuclear deal, China would meet US demands to publish a list of items prohibited from export and enforce the ban if the administration agreed to lift sanctions barring US companies from launching satellites on Chinese rockets.
The meetings between Mr Bush and Jiang were unlikely to be contentious, in part because of their new alliance against terrorism.
China has provided the US with intelligence and other help that has gone a long way toward muting differences, and Mr Bush was also extending an invitation for Jiang to visit Washington in the autumn.
But there are also sticking points. Mr Bush wants to encourage Jiang to respect religious freedoms and consider the Vatican’s plea to free Roman Catholic bishops. He said he hoped that Jiang ‘‘would understand the important role of religion in an individual’s life’’.
In addition to human rights, Mr Bush and Jiang are at odds over US missile defence plans, the fate of Taiwan, trade and the US president’s claim that North Korea, Iran and Iraq form ‘‘an axis of evil’’.
Before leaving South Korea, Bush told troops at Osan Air Base that despite their regional differences, the three Asian leaders he has met on his six-day tour are united in backing his coalition against the al Qaida network and other terrorist groups.
‘‘All three governments are lending their support in our war against terror,’’ He said.
China agreed in November 2000 to stop the export of sensitive nuclear equipment and know-how to countries like Pakistan and Iran.
But US officials say Beijing has not begun formulating export control rules and a list of sensitive technologies, nor has it cracked down on export deals struck before the November agreement.
In turn, the US has not allowed another important aspect of the 2000 agreement, Chinese commercial launching of US satellites.
Mr Bush’s visit comes on the 30th anniversary of the groundbreaking trip by President Richard Nixon - a milestone that ended a two-decade estrangement.
While Nixon opened the door to China, Mr Bush hopes to use the war on terrorism to develop a mature relationship in which differences can be resolved amicably.
Only a few months ago, administration officials feared relations with the world’s most populous country were headed in the other direction.
They cited China’s emergence as a power rivalling the US in Asia, the diplomatic confrontation in April over a downed US spy plane and Beijing’s determination to unify Taiwan.
China also opposes Mr Bush’s plan to build an anti-missile shield. The project could neutralize Beijing’s modest nuclear force.