China's relationship with the United States has been warmed by the second summit meeting in four months between presidents Jiang Zemin and George W. Bush. Despite clear differences on religious freedom, arms proliferation, Iraq and Taiwan, the two presidents announced at a joint press conference yesterday that they would step up co-operation across the board. Visits to the US by both President Jiang and his heir-apparent, Vice-President Hu Jintao, in the next few months were confirmed after a morning of talks. Mr Jiang said both countries had agreed to 'intensify high-level strategic dialogue', while Mr Bush promised the US would be 'a steady partner'. It was the second meeting for the two presidents. They met for the first time at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum in October. Noting the thaw in Sino-US ties brought about 30 years earlier to the day, when Richard Nixon became the first US president to visit communist China, Mr Bush said relations were 'mature, respectful and important to both our nations and to the world'. In their public positions, neither side appeared to have moved far on contentious issues, such as Mr Bush's commitment to sell arms to Taiwan or Washington's demands that China stick to agreements to halt the transfer of missile technology. Yet both sides seemed keen to show how they could build stronger ties on the basis of common interests in commerce and fighting terrorism. Mr Bush said he had asked for China's help in conveying a message to Pyongyang that America wanted to talk. 'The offer I made in Seoul was a real offer, and that we would be willing to meet with a North Korean regime,' Mr Bush said. Mr Jiang sought to distance himself from any American attack against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, counselling patience in the war against terrorism and stressing that China wanted a peaceful world in which to develop its economy. China also played down its opposition to Mr Bush's national missile defence project. This left the key issue of Taiwan, which Mr Jiang stressed was vital to the stability and growth of Sino-US relations. Mr Bush said his Government's position had not changed: 'We believe in the peaceful settlement of this issue. We will urge there be no provocation. The United States will continue to support the Taiwan Relations Act.' Some mainland analysts yesterday said the fact that Mr Bush did not express support for the one-China policy but stressed the Taiwan Relations Act - legislation passed by the US Congress in 1979 that governs Washington's unofficial relations with the island - demonstrated a big gap on the issue of Taiwan between Beijing and Washington. US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said Mr Bush had insisted he would live up to the obligations under the Act to ensure Taiwan could defend itself. Analysts said Mr Jiang appeared to be using the prospect of an end to Chinese arms exports as a bargaining chip in any future dealings on Taiwan. Ms Rice said a hoped-for early deal on arms proliferation would not be reached during Mr Bush's visit. Washington wants China to implement an agreement reached in November 2000 on proliferation of weapons of mass destruction by introducing laws to control the export of missile technology. Mr Bush mentioned the issue of religious freedom during the press conference, saying: 'All the world's people, including the people of China, should be free to choose how they live, how they worship, and how they work.' Today Mr Bush will also get a chance to meet Mr Hu. The two will meet when Mr Hu introduces Mr Bush before a speech at Mr Hu's alma mater, Tsinghua University, in Beijing. It was unclear if they would have time to talk, a senior US official said. Main points Visits to the US by Mr Jiang and Hu Jintao confirmed. Mr Bush asks for Mr Jiang to act as a go-between in US relations with North Korea. Mr Jiang urges patience in the war on terrorism. No deal on China curbing its sale of missile technology. Mr Jiang vows to intensify dialogue with the US. Mr Bush insists US will continue to ensure Taiwan can defend itself according to the Taiwan Relations Act.