BEIJING – Vice President Dick Cheney (search) praised China for its efforts to prod North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions and promised Tuesday to "do good work together" on a range of issues.
But U.S. officials cautioned against expecting breakthroughs on the stalled North Korea nuclear talks. Tensions also remained over Taiwan and Hong Kong.
In an unusually blunt appeal, China's vice president asked Cheney during a one-on-one meeting for Washington to stop selling defensive weapons to Taiwan, Chinese state media reported. Zeng Qinghong's (search) appeal to Cheney shortly after his arrival in Beijing reflected the intensity of China's frustration with U.S. support for self-ruled Taiwan, which the communist mainland claims as part of its territory.
"There is only one China and Taiwan is part of China," an announcer, citing Zeng, said on the state television evening news. "We hope the United States can carry out its commitment and not sell weapons to Taiwan and not send wrong signals to Taiwan independence forces."
The official Xinhua News Agency said Cheney affirmed U.S. policy, which doesn't support formal independence for Taiwan.
Beijing's anxiety over U.S. ties with Taiwan is expected to be a key issue during Cheney's three-day visit.
It is almost unheard of for a senior Chinese leader to deliver such a direct, potentially confrontational message to a visiting foreign leader. The fact that Zeng, a member of the Communist Party's nine member Standing Committee, the center of Chinese power, did so in Cheney's first meeting in Beijing showed China's emphasis on the issue.
Iraq was also high on the agenda in China, as it was in Japan — Cheney's first stop on his weeklong trip to Asia. Before arriving here from Tokyo, Cheney promised Japanese leaders unspecified U.S. help in trying to return to safety three Japanese citizens taken hostage in Iraq.
He praised Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi (search) for not bowing to demands from Iraqi militants that he withdraw Japanese forces from Iraq.
"It's important that our governments not be intimidated by threat of violence, that we not allow terrorists to change or influence the policies of our governments," Cheney told a foreign-policy forum in Tokyo before flying to Beijing.
At a dinner in Cheney's honor at Beijing's Great Hall of the People, Zeng noted that the vice president had last visited China in 1995, when he headed the oil services Halliburton Co.
"Many changes have taken place in this country" since then, Zeng told Cheney. "We place great importance to your visit."
Cheney told Zeng: "We believe we can do good work together."
All three nations on Cheney's itinerary have had civilians taken as hostages in Iraq, although those from South Korea and China have been released. Relations between the United States and China have improved as the two nations worked together to resolve the North Korean nuclear impasse.
However, differences remain over Taiwan, Hong Kong and human rights.
The Bush administration has been increasingly critical of China for trying to restrict moves toward democracy by Hong Kong, a former British colony now considered a special administrative region of China.
Ahead of Cheney's arrival, China urged the United States to stop adhering to a law that encourages Washington to sell defensive weapons to Taiwan. By doing so, the United States is sending the "wrong message to Taiwan independence forces" and meddling in China's internal affairs, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan told the official Xinhua News Agency.
Under the Taiwan Relations Act (search), the United States is pledged to defend the island off southeastern China if it is attacked from the mainland.
U.S. officials have expressed misgivings, however, about apparent moves on an independence-minded agenda by Taiwan's freshly re-elected president, Chen Shui-bian.
Cheney was to meet with Jiang Zemin, former president and military committee chairman, and Jiang's successor as president, Hu Jintao.
Cheney ended his Japan stay with a visit to Emperor Akihito (search) and other members of the imperial family and with a speech on the 150th anniversary of a U.S.-Japanese peace agreement, a document honored except for the large exception of World War II.
"The unity of America, Japan and like-minded nations saw us through the dark days of the Cold War, and with the same unity we will overcome the trials of today," he told the forum.
Japan has refused to bow to demands that it withdraw its roughly 530 ground troops doing humanitarian missions in Iraq as part of an eventual deployment of 1,100 noncombatant troops.
Cheney said that some headway had been made on the contentious issue of Japan's five-month-old ban on U.S. beef imports that followed the discovery of a holstein in Washington State with mad cow disease.
"I'm pleased to announce the Japanese government has invited U.S. experts for consultations next week," Cheney said. "We hope these consultations will lead to reopening the (Japanese) market to U.S. beef in the near future."
Thus far, Japan has insisted on 100 percent inspections of carcasses, a level the United States has said is excessive.