Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) encouraged Chinese leaders on Monday to resume a dialogue with Taiwan but suggested Beijing was not prepared to do so because of strong concerns about President Chen Shui-bian's (search) policies.
Powell also expressed disappointment with China's recent performance on human-rights issues but said that as a result of his talks here, Beijing is willing to take steps toward restarting a dialogue on the rights issue that China broke off earlier this year.
China's action was triggered by a U.S. decision to raise Beijing's rights record before the U.N. Commission on Human Rights (search) in Geneva last spring.
Summing up his discussions at a midafternoon news conference, Powell praised what he described as China's activist role in pursuing nuclear disarmament in North Korea. Chinese officials told Powell they believe it is possible for six-nation negotiations on that issue to resume in the next few months. North Korea boycotted a meeting that was to have taken place in September.
China has been in close touch with North Korean officials on the disarmament question.
Alluding to China, Powell said, "Together we are dedicated to a Korean Peninsula that is free from the threat of nuclear weapons."
Powell, who is on a three-nation tour of East Asia, met separately with President Hu Jintao (search), Prime Minister Wen Jibao and Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing. Following the discussions, Powell flew to South Korea, his final stop.
Before his departure, Powell spent 25 minutes at the Sun Dong An Plaza, a modern shopping mall in the heart of Beijing. As he arrived, he was surrounded by a phalanx of about two dozen plainclothes police who kept surprised Chinese shoppers at bay.
As for the possibility of a China-Taiwan dialogue, Powell said he encouraged the Chinese "to keep an open mind and to take advantage of any opportunity that comes along."
In a National Day speech two weeks ago, President Chen called for peace talks and other "concrete actions" to reduce tensions with China. The Bush administration praised the speech, seeing dialogue as the best path toward easing hostility between the two rivals.
But Chinese officials registered to Powell their strong disapproval of the speech and gave no indication they were ready to resume a dialogue, a senior U.S. official said.
China has said there can be no dialogue with Taiwan unless Chen accepts the "one-China principle."
The United States agrees with that principle but China objects to continuing U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, reaffirming that view in Monday's discussions. The Taiwanese legislature is weighing a proposed $18billion arms package that includes planes, submarines and Patriot missiles.
During his meeting with Li, Powell expressed concern about the detention of a New York Times researcher, Zhao Yan, on suspicion of divulging state secrets. An arrest order was issued by the prosecutor last Wednesday. Authorities haven't disclosed what he is accused of having done.
Powell said he asked Li to look into the matter and suggested that Zhao be released quickly.
Li responded by saying that Zhao is a Chinese citizen who is being dealt with in accordance with Chinese law, Powell said.
A friend of Zhao's has said that Zhao was believed to be under investigation as the possible source of a Sept. 7 report by the newspaper about the planned retirement of former President Jiang Zemin from his post as head of China's military. Jiang later handed over that post to his successor, President Hu Jintao.
The State Department has expressed concern about implications for foreign reporters in China. China's Foreign Ministry responded by warning that "outside forces should not interfere" in the case.