Fri, Dec 05, 2003 - Page 1 News List

US ready to press Chen to maintain stability

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

After a wrenching debate on its cross-strait policy over recent weeks, the George W. Bush administration has decided to retain its existing policy, while leaning hard on President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to avoid any actions that would destabilize the situation in the Taiwan Strait, government and private sources tell the Taipei Times.

Bush is expected to reiterate exiting American policy when he holds intense discussions with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) at the White House next Tuesday, the sources say.

This will be in the face of what observers say will be a strong effort by Wen to get Washington to definitively oppose Taiwan's independence and make other changes in US-Taiwan policy favorable to Beijing.

The main concern of the Bush administration, sources say, is to prevent any instability in the Strait while Bush is preoccupied with such issues as North Korea, Iraq and terrorism, at a time when US forces are stretched thin by Iraq, and when Bush faces what could be a tough re-election campaign next year, where any foreign policy complication could hurt him politically.

Bush wants Chen "lashed down pretty tight," said one source.

Meanwhile, there was no firm confirmation in Washington of reports that the top National Security Council China aide, James Moriarty, on Monday delivered a personal letter from Bush to Chen that expressed Washington's strong dissatisfaction with Chen's recent statements, culminating with his plans to hold a "defensive referendum" in connection with the March 20 presidential election.

Many observers fear such a referendum could deal with issues related to independence, which could spark a major crisis with Beijing and cause severe discomfort in Washington at a time when Bush is totally consumed with the Korea-Iraq-terrorism triumvirate plus pre-election domestic issues.

While saying he could not speak for the president, a White House spokesman said that "the policy is unchanged," and that Bush will tell Wen that when they meet.

The US leader will also tell Wen that Washington also opposes any Chinese use of force in the Strait or any other similar action that could destabilize the region, the spokesman said.

The spokesman would neither confirm nor deny that Moriarty delivered the reported letter.

In recent weeks, during their advanced planning for Wen's visit, White House, State Department, Pentagon and other officials laid out a series of "options" to current policy, sources say.

These included, significantly, a public pronouncement that Washington "opposes" Taiwan's independence, and a return to the Clinton-era "three noes" policy. That policy would say "no" to Taiwan's independence, a "two China or one-China-one-Taiwan" policy, or Taiwan's membership in international organizations which require statehood.

The administrations' current policy is that it "does not support" independence and sticks to a "one-China" policy. The Bush administration has also supported Taiwan's participation in such global organizations as the World Health Organization.

As the debate over policy was raging, the State Department apparently got the White House to agree to retain the current policy, fearing that any restating of policy would open up a can of worms that would give the administration another foreign policy crisis.

With the White House acceptance of the State Department's position, a series of high-level meetings scheduled for this week to review the options were cancelled. They were postponed until after the Wen visit, apparently to give the administration the time for a more relaxed consideration of Taiwan-China-US relations.

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