SHANGHAI, China – Vice President Dick Cheney (search) on Wednesday suggested a link between Chinese efforts to restrict self-government in Hong Kong and China's tense dealings with Taiwan. He also defended U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.
"I didn't come to alter Chinese policy. I did come with the mission of making clear what our views were. I think we achieved that," Cheney told reporters after meetings with Chinese leaders in Beijing.
The vice president ended the China leg of his weeklong Asia tour Thursday at Shanghai's Fudan University (search), where he appealed to China to do more to lower trade barriers, protect copyrights and other intellectual property rights and allow its currency to rise or fall with market forces.
"Across this region, we see entire nations raising themselves up from poverty in the space of little more than a generation, becoming stable, peaceful and open societies of free peoples," Cheney said. He next goes to South Korea.
In his Beijing meetings, Cheney suggested to Chinese leaders that people in Taiwan might view current activity in Hong Kong as "sort of a bellwether" of China's commitment to its "one country, two systems" formula for the former British colony, said a senior Bush administration official traveling with Cheney.
Cheney expressed concerns to the Chinese leaders about Beijing's recent moves to restrict Hong Kong's efforts toward self-rule, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
China increased its public criticism of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan during Cheney's visit, with officials denouncing recent sales of sophisticated radar equipment, suggesting it only encouraged moves toward independence by Taiwan.
But Cheney responded by suggesting to the Chinese leaders that the United States was increasing its sales of defensive arms to Taiwan in response to China's missile buildup on the mainland side of the Taiwan Straits, the official said.
The United States is required under the Taiwan Relations Act (search) to defend Taiwan against an attack from the mainland.
The status of Taiwan, which China views as a renegade province, has been a contentious issue between the United States and China for half a century, through both Democratic and Republican administrations, Cheney said.
"And it's important that there be a very clear open channel of communications between our two nations on that issue," he told reporters.
"I think it is a mistake for us, as Americans, to underestimate the extent to which there are differences" between the United States and China, Cheney said.
"By the same token, I think it's clear that there are broad areas where we share strategic interests. ... There's no reason why we can't achieve a high degree of cooperation and avoid the kind of conflict and confrontation that would be a tragedy for everybody."
Cheney also sought to prod China to apply more pressure on North Korea to abandon its nuclear program, citing new evidence that it has atomic weapons.
The senior administration official said Cheney passed on to Chinese leaders new information, obtained from a top Pakistani nuclear scientist, suggesting that North Korea had at least three nuclear devices and is capable of making them from both plutonium and enriched uranium.
"Time is not on our side," the official quoted Cheney as saying.
Cheney favors resuming stalled six-nation talks, but results are what ultimately counts, the U.S. official said. There should be a more aggressive effort to either get those talks back on track or to find other ways of applying pressure on North Korea, the official said.
Cheney met separately Wednesday with Chinese President Hu Jintao, his predecessor, Jiang Zemin, and Premier Wen Jiabao.
Cheney also raised anew U.S. problems with China's practice of pegging its currency, the yuan, to the dollar instead of allowing it to rise and fall with market pressures.
Chinese leaders told Cheney that Chinese Vice Premier Huang Ju would travel to the United States later this year to discuss American concerns with Treasury Secretary John Snow.
U.S. manufacturers claim China's rigid currency policy gives China a competitive advantage and helps drive U.S. jobs overseas. China claims it agrees in principle with allowing market forces to set currency rates, but that such a change must be achieved slowly to avoid damage to its banking system.
Cheney also delivered to Chinese leaders a request from the Vatican that it be allowed to send an ambassador to Beijing, the official said.