US and China clash over Gulf war, Tibet

A top United States diplomat yesterday warned Peking that additional Iranian attacks with Chinese missiles on US-flagged vessels in the Gulf could undermine popular support of Chinese-American ties. US Deputy Secretary of State Michael Armacost urged China to halt alleged missile shipments to Iran. Chinese leaders accused Washington of blaming Peking for rising tensions in the Gulf.

Both US and Chinese officials said they believe that neither nation will allow the recent differences to upset their burgeoning trade, political and scientific exchanges, and other hallmarks of friendly relations.

US diplomats, seeking a worldwide embargo of arms shipments to Iran, claim China is Iran's main weapons supplier, with annual sales estimated at $1 billion. The arms shipments allegedly include Silkworm missles, the type Iran recently fired at two tankers flying US flags and a Kuwaiti oil platform.

Zhao Ziyang, Communist Party general secretary, called claims that China has sold arms to Iran ``totally unreasonable and groundless.''

``Some people are attempting to shift the responsibility of the tension in the Gulf onto China and this is unfair,'' he told a press conference Monday.

Peking has chided the US for dispatching warships to the Gulf, saying the naval force has heightened tensions. China has called on the superpowers to withdraw militarily and rely on diplomacy to end the Gulf war.

Western diplomats say Peking continues to ship the missiles to Iran after more than a year of US diplomatic pressure because the sales provide the military with critical funds for its drive toward modernization. Since 1979, Peking has cut the portion of the annual state budget devoted to the military from 17.5 percent to 8.8 percent, according to official figures.

China and the US are also at odds over the issue of human rights in Tibet, where last month Chinese armed police and troops crushed a series of pro-independence demonstrations. The US Senate has denounced China for violating the human rights of Tibetans and voiced support for the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader. Chinese officials have strongly criticized US legislators as ``arrogant'' and ``meddling'' for commenting on what Peking considers an internal matter.

``Does serfdom accord with human rights?'' Zhao asked, restating a claim that China destroyed an oppressive social structure in Tibet after invading in 1950.

The US officially recognizes Peking's rule of Tibet. But Mr. Armacost said that he had indicated that the US ``position on the status of Tibet does not relate to [the US] expression of concern for human rights here. ...''

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