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Rice Warns Europe Not to Sell Advanced Weaponry to China

Military Balance At Risk, Allies Told

By Glenn Kessler
Monday, March 21, 2005

BEIJING, March 20 -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sternly warned European allies on Sunday that they "should do nothing" that alters the military balance of power in Asia through sales of sophisticated weapons to China, suggesting that those arms ultimately could be directed at Americans.

"It is the United States -- not Europe -- that has defended the Pacific," Rice said at a news conference in Seoul before she flew to Beijing for talks with Chinese officials. Later, like two of her predecessors, she attended a service at a government-sanctioned church, making a symbolic political statement about the lack of religious freedom in China.

The European Union had appeared all but certain this year to lift an embargo on weapons sales imposed after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre of democracy demonstrators. U.S. officials have expressed dismay over the decision, especially after China passed a law this month authorizing the use of force against Taiwan if it moves toward formal independence. Rice also held talks this weekend in Japan and South Korea, both of which fear that China will improve its military capabilities.

Rice cited U.S. concerns about the rise of Chinese military spending and the increasing sophistication of Chinese military power. "The European Union should do nothing to contribute to a circumstance in which Chinese military modernization draws on European technology or even the political decision to suggest that it could draw on European technology," she said.

The United States would bolster its forces in response to such sales to keep the current military balance intact, she added.

Hours after Rice made her statement, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said in London that the rising tensions between China and Taiwan have made it harder to lift the embargo.

Nearing the end of her week-long tour of Asia, Rice consulted closely with officials in Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing about efforts to persuade North Korea to return to nuclear disarmament talks. Rice struck a careful public balance this weekend, offering softer diplomatic language while also visiting an underground military command center in South Korea that would direct a war against the North.

While Rice stressed that the United States was committed to a diplomatic resolution, she has begun to suggest that U.S. patience with the North Koreans was waning. "It is true that we need to resolve this issue," she told reporters in Seoul. "It cannot go on forever."

Rice has begun discussing with her Asian counterparts what other diplomatic steps should be taken if North Korea fails to return to the talks soon, or fails to make a reasonable counteroffer if the talks resume, according to a senior State Department official. He declined to describe those steps, but some key U.S. officials have pressed to take the matter to the U.N. Security Council. North Korea has warned that such a step would be tantamount to a declaration of war.

Rice spoke at length about North Korea on Sunday with Chinese President Hu Jintao and about Taiwan with Premier Wen Jiabao, the official said. In the evening, she attended a one-hour Palm Sunday service at Gangwashi Protestant church, a spare and functional building in an alley west of Tiananmen Square.

The senior pastor, Du Fenyying, introduced Rice to the 600 congregants as "the American secretary of state, Sister Rice." Rice listened to a translation of the service through headphones.

Rice describes herself as deeply religious, and her attendance was billed by her aides as a strictly private matter. Though visiting the church had political overtones -- she could have attended church on Sunday morning in Seoul -- she barely touched on human rights and democracy in her discussions with China's top leaders. She will discuss those topics Monday with a lower-level official, Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, the senior official said.

Rice's church visit was not unprecedented. Two presidents -- George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton -- have attended church in China, as did two secretaries of state, James A. Baker III in 1991 and Madeleine K. Albright in 1998. Although Rice did not speak, Albright -- in the same church -- made a statement calling for the free exercise of religious beliefs.

Last week, the State Department chose not to pursue a resolution critical of China at the U.N. Human Rights Commission, citing in part new regulations that provide for family churches whose members worship in homes. But human rights groups say the new rules actually tighten the Chinese government's controls on worship. Mickey Spiegel, senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, said the regulations appear to eliminate "any gray area through which small local groups without a structure could use someone's home or shop as a meeting place where like-minded believers could quietly congregate."

Correspondent Philip P. Pan contributed to this report.