Wed, Nov 21, 2001 - Page 1 News List

US says WTO not place for Taiwan, China to discuss cross-strait politics

TRADE ONLY James Kelly, the US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said that discussing political affairs at the WTO would in his words `ruin what we've got'

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

The US State Department's top expert on Asia says that the WTO -- which accepted both Taiwan and China into membership last weekend -- is not the place for political cross-strait dialogue.

James Kelly, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told reporters in Washington that trying to add political dialogue to the WTO process would "ruin what we've got."

Some US officials, in anticipation of last week's votes to allow Taiwan and China to enter the 143-member global trade organization, had said that the presence of officials from both sides of the Taiwan Strait could facilitate communications that could extend to the political sphere, in addition to trade matters that come up between WTO members on a regular basis.

Kelly disagreed.

"The WTO is a place for resolving trade disputes," he told reporters.

"But trying to load up all kinds of political dialogues on and have the Americans try to foster it, strikes me as a good way to ruin what we've got. There will be plenty of trade issues, Lord knows" to keep both sides busy in the WTO, he said.

Regarding other issues during the wide-ranging presentation at the Foreign Press Center in Washington, Kelley said that the Bush administration will name a new head of the American Institute in Taiwan within a period of weeks.

The post has been vacant for more than two months since the former head, Raymond Burghardt, was named Ambassador to Vietnam.

Douglas Paal, the president of the Asia Pacific Policy Center, a Washington think tank, is widely expected to be tapped for the position. But the extensive and time-consuming process by which officials are nominated nowadays, as well as Washington's preoccupation with the war against terrorism, has held up the process.

In a press briefing heavily weighted toward Taiwanese affairs due to the large and aggressive Taiwanese media contingent in Washington, Kelly also said he did not expect much in the way of progress in cross-strait relations for some time.

"After the election in Taiwan, we've got a period of time which probably, because it looks to me like an exceptionally close election, will be involved in building coalitions. That could take a long time," he said.

"Then on the Mainland we have the run-up to the 16th Party Congress. So it may not be the best time, with both sides involved in domestic issues, to get into the serious kind of negotiations that probably will be necessary at some point. What the US can do on that is probably not very much," he said.

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