Beijing is to dispatch a senior Taiwan affairs official to Washington later this month in a charm offensive geared to limiting fresh arms sales to Taipei. The Deputy Minister of Taiwan Affairs, Zhou Mingwei, is seeking meetings with senior figures in the new administration of President George W. Bush, including Secretary of State Colin Powell. It will be the first ministerial-level contact between the mainland and the Bush administration. Mr Zhou's schedule is still being finalised and the trip has yet to be formally announced by either side. 'We want to make our position on Taiwan as clear as possible at the earliest possible time,' a Chinese source said. 'We hope Mr Zhou's visit will help cement relations with the new administration and prevent any chance of misunderstandings.' The mission comes ahead of a planned visit to Washington next month by Vice-Premier Qian Qichen - a trip in which arms sales to Taiwan will also dominate. Chinese officials hope that Mr Qian will be able to meet both Mr Bush and Mr Powell to press China's firm opposition to the sales, which it claims would be flouting the long-standing Taiwan Relations Act. Decisions over the annual Taiwan weapons wish-list are due in April and will be an indication of the Bush approach to China. The administration has received written appeals from Taiwan delegations urging the sale of advanced Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. The ships carry the Aegis air defence and battle management system - high-powered radars allowing ships, planes and missiles to be co-ordinated over a wide area of land and sea. Such a system could form a key part of any theatre missile defensive system provided for Taiwan. Some recent reports suggest China will threaten new military exercises off Taiwan as well as diplomatic measures if Washington pushes ahead with the sales. Beijing also has a number of concerns over the Bush administration's desire to press ahead with an extensive national missile defence system and to develop stronger ties with Japan. Human rights issues could prove another early sticking point, with Mr Powell's State Department due to release its annual report on human rights by the end of this month. The report is expected to once again outline a worsening trend. The US must then decide whether it will seek to back a critical resolution during the annual United Nations human rights meeting in Geneva next month.