The US has rebuffed Chinese objections to the visit of Minister of National Defense Tang Yao-ming (
US State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said that the visit was a private one and that ministerial-level Taiwan officials have been allowed to visit the US in the past.
Boucher also indicated he would not rule out a meeting between Tang and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs James Kelly during Tang's visit. Kelly is slated to attend the conference.
The State Department granted Tang a visa on Wednesday to attend a defense conference in St. Petersburg, Florida organized by the private US-Taiwan Business Council, an association of companies promoting trade and investment ties between the US and Taiwan. Tang arrived in the US on Saturday.
Furious that the US issued Tang a visa, Beijing's Foreign Ministry Thursday summoned US Ambassador Clark Randt to complain. Junior Foreign Minster Zhou Wenzhong (周文重), who met with Randt, called the visa an "open violation" of agreements between Washington and Beijing and warned the visit would "damage both Sino-US relations and relations across the Taiwan Strait."
Boucher, however, refuted Zhou's assertions.
"We have made it clear," Boucher told reporters Friday, "that Minister Tang would make a private visit to the United States to participate in the US-Taiwan Business Council conference.
"That's a visit that's consistent with our policy. From time to time we have people like this, even at the ministerial level from Taiwan, come and visit," Boucher said.
While not saying whether Tang will have a separate meeting with Kelly, Boucher said that "it would be consistent with what we have done to have a meeting if we decide to do it."
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz is also attending the three-day conference and there are indications that Tang may meet with Wolfowitz on the sidelines of the conference.
The invitation to Tang marks the first time that a Taiwan defense minister has been granted a US visa other than for transit purposes since Washington switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing in 1979.
Tang has said that his mission at the meeting will be to explain Taiwan's defense structure and procurement policies. In this, he could be targeting his activities to the cross-section of the US aerospace and defense industry, which will sponsor and attend the conference.
The conference's sponsors include Lockheed Martin Corp, Boeing Co, Northrop Grumman Corp, Raytheon Co, General Dynamics Corp, United Technologies Corp, Textron Inc and Honeywell International Inc.
Tang has said he does not plan to discuss any specific Taiwan arms purchases and that he does not plan to discuss issues related to any US theater missile defense plans that might include Taiwan under its umbrella.