BEIJING, Jan 15: The United States top military officer said on Thursday consensus "on many issues" had been reached in talks with China's top leaders, but the Taiwan question remains a thorn in the side of warming bilateral ties.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers, who arrived here on Wednesday, was extended to a meeting on Thursday with military strongman Jiang Zemin. The general met Jiang, the former president who still wields considerable power as head of the Central Military Commission, at Zhongnanhai where China's top leaders reside, and was greeted warmly.

"There are differences between China and the US but we consider that common interests exceed by far these differences," foreign ministry spokesman Kong Quan said. "Even more important, both sides are developing constructive cooperation that is beneficial for both peoples and also for the peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific region and the world."

Gen Myers, who met his counterpart Gen Liang Guanglie, chief of general staff of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), and other officials on Wednesday, described his trip as "a great visit". He discussed with Jiang North Korea and international terrorism and said they had "reached consensus on many issues". Taiwan however overshadowed the goodwill.

"President (of the Central Military Commission) Jiang Zemin particularly pointed out that the Taiwan question is the most important and sensitive one in the Sino-US relations," Kong said.

Jiang made clear China will never tolerate Taiwan and was awaiting reunification, seeking independence, Kong said. Mr Myers reminded China that Washington would help defend the island if it was attacked, and cautioned about a "very large" Chinese missile arsenal facing Taiwan. "The US is committed to helping Taiwan maintain its ability to resist the use of force or coercion to solve this problem," he told journalists.

"And it is not just a one-sided issue," he said when questioned by Chinese journalists on US arms sales to the island. "In fact, if you look at the build-up on the Chinese mainland side of the (Taiwan) Straits in terms of surface-to-surface missiles you would see a very large build-up. And China continues to build-up its capability opposite Taiwan.-AFP

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