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Friday, July 07, 2000, updated at 07:36(GMT+8)

China, Italy Warn Against Violation of ABM Pact

Italy and China on Thursday warned against boosting military expenditure to a point where it would threaten the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and relations between nations.

Speaking in Rome after talks with Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji, Italian Prime Minister Giuliano Amato said they had agreed that "some countries pose a threat but it is essential that risks be reduced."

Zhu said China was "categorically opposed" to a US shield against ballistic missiles because it would also "aim to absorb Taiwan into the American sphere of protection, which we consider a gross interference into China's domestic affairs."

Amato said Italy and China were acknowledging US caution in handling the missile shield issue.

The US missile shield project may be cause for concern because it could be perceived "as a threat rather than a means of defense," he added.

Reiterating Beijing's position of "one country, two systems", Zhu said that, in line with a policy already applied to Hong Kong and Macau, China could propose Taiwan a separate system, "even a more generous one," after unification with the mainland.

He cited a renunciation to send Chinese troops to Taiwan as an example of this separate status. Taiwan would also be represented in the central government.

China has sent troops to Macau, Zhu recalled.

"But after reunification we need not send troops to Taiwan," he added.

As another generous offer, Beijing could also propose a central government post to Taiwan.

"Unfortunately Taiwan leaders do not behave like the leaders of the two Koreas; they don't even acknowledge being Chinese," he said.

Amato and Zhu also pledged closer cooperation to stem organized crime and illegal immigration from China to prevent disasters like the one which cost the lives of 58 stowaways in a container truck trying to enter Britain last month.

Italian anti-Mafia police have warned that the trade in Chinese immigrants was becoming more and more organised, employing the use of speedboats to bring asylum seekers across the northern Adriatic from Croatia.

Smugglers were using the new route after Italy tightened controls on its southern coast.

"China is strongly opposed to illegal immigration," Zhu said. "But to fight it we need more international cooperation and a joint effort."

Amato also warned that the effects of globalisation were helping organised crime.

Zhu, on his fourth visit to Italy, arrived in Rome late Wednesday for a four-day visit focusing on economic and political issues.

The visit comes as the two countries mark the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations.

Zhu, who said he had no plans for a visit to the Vatican, invited Amato to come to China in November.

The two leaders also touched on human rights issues, a subject which had played a prominent part in talks between Chinese President Jiang Zemin and Italian leaders in Rome in March last year.

Amato reiterated his government's position that it is "opposed to capital punishment in all countries, and not in one in particular."

Zhu warned against creating "antagonisms" over the human rights issue and added that it was "up to the Chinese government" to decide whether or not to abolish the death penalty.

Zhu was to have a meeting with Italian business leaders later Thursday. On Friday he was to visit Pisa and Florence before traveling to Venice Saturday. He will wind up his European tour in Brussels where he was expected Sunday.

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Italy and China on Thursday warned against boosting military expenditure to a point where it would threaten the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and relations between nations.

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