Wed, Jun 25, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Referendums top agendas in the US

DEMOCRACY Two groups from the Legislative Yuan were expected to discuss the issue on their visits to the US, which has largely tried to play down the matter

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

Washington's position on referendums in Taiwan remained unclear on Monday, with the US State Department urging both sides of the Taiwan Strait to reduce tensions and avoid statements that raise tensions.

Meanwhile, Taiwan's supporters in Washington struggled to find out what exactly American Institute in Taiwan Director Douglas Paal told President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and other leaders last week.

Some saw a potential conflict between reports in Chinese-language newspapers on what Paal said and the comments coming out of the George W. Bush administration in Washington.

The issue was the main topic of conversation Monday night at Taiwan's Twin Oaks mansion in Washington, as two groups of visiting Legislative Yuan members had dinner with US officials and other Taiwan supporters.

Some US conservatives, who have long distrusted Paal as being too "pro-China," felt that he had overstressed the US position opposing the referendums Chen and others would like to hold.

Others said they thought he might have been misquoted.

Neither of the two Legislative Yuan groups had met senior US officials Monday, the first day of their separate visits to Washington, and could shed little authoritative light on the Bush administration's actual position.

PFP Legislator Lin Yu Fang (林郁方), who told reporters he met with Paal in Taiwan, said Paal referred to a "demarcation line. which you cannot cross."

It seemed to Paal, Lin told reporters Monday night, "that the referendum is something that symbolizes this the crossing of the line."

"Once you cross it," Lin quoted Paal as saying,"everything will be different."

"It seems to me that what he tried to say is that you cannot predict what the PRC might do in response to Taiwan's referendum, and for the United States, the best way to maintain the peace, security and prosperity in the Taiwan area is not to cross the line," Lin told the Taipei Times.

The State Department issued what appeared to be a mild rebuke of Chen.

Department spokesman Phil Reeker, in response to a question at his daily press briefing, said, "We have continued to urge Taiwan on a regular basis, as well as the People's Republic of China, to refrain from actions or statements that increase tension across the Strait or make dialogue more difficult to achieve."

Echoing statements the department has made since Friday, when the original stories about Paal's remarks appeared, Reeker noted that Chen in his May 2000 inaugural address said he would not call a referendum "to change the status quo in regards to the question of independence or unification." Reeker added, "We appreciate that pledge by President Chen and we take it very seriously."

Reeker reiterated US policy toward Taiwan independence, which Bush personally reiterated earlier this month during his meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), that Washington does "not support Taiwan independence. We have a `one China' policy based on the three communiques and the Taiwan Relations Act," Reeker noted.

Regarding referendums on "non-political issues" of public policy, Reeker said, "Those are clearly decisions [that the] Taiwan authorities have to take themselves."

He distinguished them from actions "that increase tensions or make it more difficult to pursue dialogue," which the US opposes, he said.

John Tkacik, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, called Reeker's comments a "very circumscribed position."

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