Officials insist Cao Gangchuan must meet President Bush The US and China are locked in a diplomatic tussle over Beijing's request for George W. Bush to meet Defence Minister Cao Gangchuan during the general's visit to Washington next week. Sources have told the South China Morning Post that the White House has so far not agreed to grant General Cao a one-on-one meeting with Mr Bush. General Cao is also vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission. The tussle has held up an official announcement of the general's arrival date and itinerary. Diplomats from both sides have already agreed that General Cao will make a two-day visit to Washington starting next Monday after a one-day stop at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona on Sunday. At the facility, which is part of the United States Southern Command, he will discuss possible search and rescue links with US military officials. In Washington, General Cao will separately meet his US counterpart, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Topics expected to be discussed include the North Korea nuclear crisis and possible further co-operation between the Chinese and US militaries. The general is also scheduled to make a speech at the National Defence University, the training ground for senior American military and diplomatic leaders. Sources said yesterday that Chinese officials insisted that General Cao hold a personal meeting with Mr Bush. Failure to grant this request would be seen as a snub and would set back Sino-US relations. The sources said Bill Clinton met former defence minister Chi Haotian when he was US president in 1996. Last month Mr Powell said ties between the two countries were now at their best for 30 years. The impending visit of General Cao is intended to symbolise the latest improvement in military ties since Jiang Zemin and Mr Bush made an agreement at a meeting in Texas last October to increase exchanges. The relationship had hit rock bottom in April 2001 after the Hainan spy plane incident, after which US Defence Secretary Rumsfeld suspended all contact with the Chinese authorities. But since last October's presidential agreement, there has been a steady stream of exchanges between the two militaries. Last month, two US naval warships visited the headquarters of the South China Fleet of the People's Liberation Army in Zhanjiang, Guangdong. Last December, PLA Deputy Chief of General Staff General Xiong Guangkai held talks with Undersecretary of Defence for Policy Douglas Feith in the Pentagon.