Vice President Bush said last night that the Reagan administration hopes to "bridge differences" with China over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and strengthen the currently stalled strategic partnership against the Soviet Union.
But Chinese leaders, responding coolly to Bush on his first day in Peking, made it clear that prospects for strategic cooperation are dimmed by continued U.S. military supplies to Taiwan, which China considers a breakaway island.
In a meeting this morning, Vice Chairman Deng Xiaoping, China's most influential leader, told Bush he hopes his visit will "disperse the shadows and dark clouds overhanging our relations."
The degree of strain in the once cordial Sino-American relationship was evident in the businesslike Chinese reception of Bush, the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit China since then vice president Walter Mondale's trip in 1979.
Bush's first round of talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Huang Hua was described as "frank and candid," suggesting wide differences on the Taiwan arms sales issue that has soured relations over past months.
Bush, speaking at a welcoming banquet, sought to reassure his hosts that the administration does not intend--as Peking claims--to keep Taiwan separate from the mainland by continuing to supply arms to Taipei.
"The United States acknowledges the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China," Bush, who is to be here five days, declared. "We respect Chinas's sovereignty and territorial integrity."
Premier Zhao Ziyang, who hosted the banquet, offered a toast reflecting the priority China places on ending U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, which Peking calls an interference in Chinese domestic affairs.
Zhao, alluding to China's threats to downgrade relations, noted that the vice president's visit comes at a "critical juncture."
China is calling for a gradual phase-out of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and a deadline for a complete halt.