San Diego Union-Tribune

October 19, 2001

Jiang affirms support during visit with Bush


SHANGHAI, China -- Chinese President Jiang Zemin reaffirmed his commitment today to the U.S.-led war against terrorism, but used the first meeting between the two leaders to caution President Bush to limit the military operation to prevent civilian casualties.

The meeting, held at Jiang's Western Suburb Guest House on the eve of a meeting of 21 Asian and Pacific Rim leaders, was the first step in Bush's effort to shore up Asian support for the coalition.

Bush expressed immediate satisfaction with what he heard, telling reporters that China "stands side by side with the American people as we fight this evil force."

At a joint press conference with Jiang, he said of China: "There was no hesitation, there was no doubt they'd stand with our people during this terrible time."

Jiang spoke approvingly of the relationship, saying he was "pleased to note that recently there's been an improvement in our ties."

But Jiang gave a cautious answer when asked whether he approved of the U.S. and British military strikes on Afghanistan. He said there must be "clearly defined targets" and efforts should be made to "hit accurately and also avoid innocent casualties."

Both leaders stressed the importance of their joint responsibility to work together to eradicate terrorism.

Jiang said, "China stands ready to make joint efforts with the U.S. side to develop constructive and cooperative relationships."

Immediately after the meeting, there were Chinese reports that Jiang had agreed to increase intelligence sharing, a key Bush goal.

The president's meeting with Jiang came on the first full day of a visit to China and was the first of several sessions with other world leaders he will have here during the annual summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

Bush is hoping to build a personal relationship with Jiang warm enough to overcome a rough patch in Sino-American ties going back to Bush's campaign rhetoric labeling China a "strategic competitor."

The two leaders started their meeting with small talk about the weather and the changes in Shanghai since 1975, when he last visited China at a time his father was the U.S. envoy to Beijing.

"The change is very impressive," said Bush, who could also have been talking about the shift in his relations with Jiang. In April, both leaders refused to talk to each other on the phone during a brief impasse over the Chinese downing of an American surveillance plane.

Even before he arrived, Bush encountered fresh challenges to the U.S.-led coalition against terrorism with new signs of skittishness by Muslim countries being wooed by Bush.

Bush arrived in Shanghai last night for his first foreign trip since the terrorist attacks on the United States on Sept. 11 and the allied bombing of Afghanistan that followed.

The president was trying to ease Chinese concerns about a growing U.S. troop presence in central Asia while increasing U.S. access to Chinese intelligence gathered along their narrow border with Afghanistan.

As a veto-wielding permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, China was crucial to U.S. diplomatic efforts immediately after Sept. 11. But China, like other countries in the region, would like some assurance that the U.S. military strikes will end soon.

That desire was reflected in a draft declaration on terrorism that greeted Bush upon his arrival here.

Adopted by the foreign ministers of the 21 Asian and Pacific Rim countries, it was hailed by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell as "a resounding signal of support." But the draft declaration, which previews the statement on terrorism expected to be issued by Bush and the other leaders Sunday, pointedly did not endorse the military attacks on Afghanistan.

And, according to The Associated Press, which received a copy of the draft, it makes no mention of Osama bin Laden, leader of the al-Qaeda network blamed for the attacks on New York City and Washington.

This appeared to be a reflection of the growing nervousness of two Muslim countries represented here -- Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, and Malaysia.

Both countries have seen increasing protests against the American search for bin Laden and the strikes against the Taliban leadership of Afghanistan.

"There are sensitivities in how publicly they talk about the military aspect of that fight against terrorism," said Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.

Powell would acknowledge only that some of his counterparts pushed for an early end to the military operations.

U.S. officials were pleased by the remarks of Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan, who said the foreign ministers saw the war against terrorism in terms reminiscent off those being used by the White House -- "a fight between justice and evil, civilization and

Tang indicated that APEC would condemn the Sept. 11 attacks as "murderous deeds."