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China, U.S., Agreeing To Disagree

China and the United States are at odds over a proposed U.S. missile shield, but initial talks on the issue were constructive, a U.S. envoy said Wednesday.

State Department official James Kelly said Chinese officials agreed to further discussions over the planned missile defense system along with U.S. proposals for curbing weapons proliferation and reducing America's nuclear forces.

"Although we clearly still have differences of opinion, our consultations on this subject were constructive and constitute a good beginning," Kelly said in a departure statement released by the U.S. Embassy.

Earlier, China's Foreign Ministry said talks on Tuesday had not softened Beijing's opposition.

Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi urged Washington to abandon its plan, saying the system would endanger the global strategic balance, spark an arms race and frustrate arms control efforts.

China would not "wait idly and see its national interests being undermined," Sun told reporters Tuesday, without specifically saying how China would respond. China has previously said it could beef up its small nuclear arsenal or improve the technology of its missiles to overcome the U.S. defenses.

"We are opposed to the National Missile Defense because it destroys the global strategic balance and upsets international stability," Sun said.

The Bush administration decision to let Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian meet U.S. lawmakers when he visits the United States next week was a "despicable breach of trust and commitment," the official English-language China Daily newspaper said.

"Allowing Chen to stay in the United States and meet U.S. lawmakers is the latest example in a growing list of U.S. provocations directed at China," the Communist Party paper said in an angry editorial.

China considers Taiwan a breakaway territory. Chen will be in the U.S. on his way to and from Latin America.

The range of activities and the permission to meet legislators mark a departure from the practice of the previous U.S. administration, which imposed tight restrictions on what visiting Taiwanese leaders could and could not do.

Kelly, an assistant secretary for east Asian and Pacific affairs, met with China's chief arms control official, Sha Zukang, and other Foreign Ministry officials. Kelly said he reiterated U.S. arguments that the system wasn't aimed at China, but intended to defend against accidental missile launches or attacks from unpredictable countries such as North Korea.

"I stressed that our plans for a missile defense system would not be a threat to China," Kelly said.

Kelly said the sides also discussed returning the U.S. Navy EP-3E Aries II surveillance plane that made an emergency landing on southern China's Hainan island after an April 1 collision with a Chinese fighter jet over the South China Sea.

The crash, which killed the Chinese pilot, and China's 11-day detention of the U.S. plane's crew, inflamed nationalist passions on both sides. China has refsed to allow the United States to fly the plane home after repairs. However, the two sides agreed to use diplomatic channels to secure the plane's quick release, Kelly said.

The two sides also discussed China's human rights records, Kelly said.

His China visit and earlier stops in Japan, South Korea, Australia and Singapore were part of a global diplomatic push by the United States to ameliorate concerns over the system. U.S. diplomats have been dispatched to Russia, which has joined with China in opposing the plan, as well as to U.S. allies in Europe who have given the U.S. plans a tepid response.

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