THE United States has called on China to accept tough new international guidelines on the control of the proliferation of missiles.
The Defence Secretary-Designate, Mr Les Aspin, has indicated it is unlikely the administration of Mr Bill Clinton would reconsider the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan.
But in a meeting with two US senators yesterday, China's Prime Minister Mr Li Peng reiterated Beijing's willingness to improve ties with the Clinton Government.
Washington has asked Beijing to abide by the new rules, which bar countries from exporting missiles carrying not only nuclear, but also biological and chemical warheads.
US State Department spokesman Mr Richard Boucher said that Washington had discussed the new controls with China, but he refused to say if Beijing had agreed to abide by them.
The controls come into force as controversy continued over the reported secret sale by China of M-11 missiles to Pakistan. The sale violated existing control regimes. Beijing denied it breached the guidelines.
Twenty-two Western countries and Japan are signatories of the 1987 Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), which prevents countries from exporting nuclear missiles with a range of 300 kilometres and a payload of 500 kilograms.
China is not a signatory of the MTCR, but pledged last February to abide by the guidelines.
The tougher rules that have just come into effect bar the sale of all missiles - regardless of range or payload.
Mr Boucher said the US and other MTCR partners were calling on all countries to abide by the new rules.
Meanwhile, Mr Aspin told senators that the Clinton administration was unlikely to reconsider outgoing President Mr George Bush's decision to sell 150 F-16 warplanes to Taiwan.
He said blocking the sale ''might stir up an awful lot of trouble''.
Mr Aspin acknowledged that the global arms trade was an issue that needed to be dealt with but he gave no indication that the US would backtrack on the deal with Taiwan.
In separate meetings in Beijing yesterday with Senator Bennett Johnston and Senator Daniel Akaka, Mr Li said there was no reason why bilateral ties could not be improved further.
''There is no reason for China and the US not to develop a friendly relationship,'' he said.
Referring to China's willingness to improve bilateral ties based on the three Sino-US Joint Commmuniques, Mr Li said: ''This basic position of the Chinese Government is consistent, whether it is the Republican Party or the Democratic Party in the White House.'' Diplomats in Beijing said it was significant Mr Li made no reference to obstructions to bilateral ties including the F-16 deal and Washington's criticism of China's lapses in human rights.
They pointed out it was unusual that Chinese leaders had in the past two months found time to meet practically every government or congressional delegation from the US.
In the meetings yesterday, Mr Li also lobbied the senators for the extension of Most Favoured Nation trading status for China.