BEIJING, AUG. 4 -- The State Department's top expert on Asia, Assistant Secretary of State Richard Solomon, arrived here today to discuss the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and other issues.
Solomon, who flew from Moscow where he had been traveling with Secretary of State James A. Baker III, is the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit China since the controversial secret mission last December by national security adviser Brent Scowcroft.
A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy here said Solomon is briefing Chinese Foreign Ministry officials on the Middle East situation as well as on the recent U.S. decision to drop diplomatic recognition of the Chinese-backed guerrilla alliance fighting the government in Cambodia.
Officials said the visit was in keeping with the joint call by Baker and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze for a worldwide arms embargo and other sanctions against Iraq to bring about a withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait.
Solomon met today with Foreign Ministry officials and is scheduled to have at least one more meeting Sunday before flying to Tokyo and Seoul. U.S. officials declined to comment on the substance of the talks.
It is unclear how much influence China has in the Persian Gulf region. As a member of the U.N. Security Council, Beijing has a diplomatic role, and in recent years has become one of the region's major arms sellers, supplying arms to both Iran and Iraq during their eight-year war.
Chinese sales to Iraq have consisted mostly of small arms and fighters. But because China recently established diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia, and Saudi King Fahd has accepted China's invitation to visit, some Western observers said Beijing may be more inclined to restrain its arms sales to Iraq.
However, the official New China News Agency said later that Foreign Minister Qian Qichen had indicated that China will not join the United States and other countries in placing sanctions on Iraq.
Qian also has said Beijing was willing to play a role in maintaining peace in the Middle East.
U.S. officials said Solomon's trip did not violate the U.S. ban on high-level exchanges with China. The ban was among sanctions imposed by the Bush administration after China's crackdown on democracy demonstrators in June 1989.