Sat, Dec 06, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Diplomat in US confident of ties

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

Taiwan's top diplomat in Washing-ton, Chen Chien-jen (程建人), said Thursday that US officials had not indicated to him that the George W. Bush administration had changed its position on Taiwan independence, but he conceded that he did not know whether Bush would make any concessions on Taiwan during his meeting next Tuesday with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶).

Chen, head of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office, said the information given to him was that the US would continue to say it "does not support" Taiwan independence, instead of bowing to Chinese wishes that the administration say it "opposes" independence.

"I think the US government and its spokesmen in the last few days have been emphasizing it will continue to use the words, `do not support' Taiwan independence," he said

He made his comments during a luncheon address to the Asia Society in Washington.

However, just before he spoke, White House spokesman Scott McClellan, in his regular daily press briefing, said that the administration "opposes any unilateral attempts to change Taiwan's status."

"That would apply," McClellan said, "to both Beijing's possible use of force and any moves by Taiwan itself that would change the status quo on independence or unification."

The administration continues "to urge both sides to refrain from actions or statements that increase tensions or make dialogue more difficult to achieve," he said.

Asked about those statements, Chen said that "my impression and my information is that the policy hasn't changed. I think the United States wants to assure peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.

"But I think that the United States fully understands the importance of having a viable and vibrant democracy survive, grow and prosper."

In his speech, Chen pointed to the planned referendum and new constitution as part of the democratization process in Taiwan.

He also noted that opinion polls in recent years have shown that the lion's share of Taiwan's population support the status quo.

"The government must listen to the people. If the people want status quo, we have to achieve status quo," Chen said.

In his speech, Chen said Taiwan "is not seeking to cause trouble or antagonize anyone else, but only to better meet the needs of the people by further improving its own political system."

He also cited President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) reiteration of his "five noes" and stressed that any referendum would not deal with independence or unification issues.

Also Thursday, US Senator George Allen, the co-chairman of the Senate Taiwan Caucus, sent a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell urging the State Department not to make statements opposing a referendum in Taiwan, saying such statements "could seriously damage the longtime friendship between the United States and Taiwan."

"There is serious concern that State Department officials will make a statement in the coming days in opposition to Taiwan independence," Allen said, echoing rumors circulating in Washington among conservative think tank members about a possible change in US policy.

Meanwhile, Taiwanese-American groups are mobilizing in advance of Wen's visit to Washington with plans for a mass rally at the Chinese Embassy Tuesday afternoon followed by a protest demonstration that evening outside a hotel where Wen will deliver a major policy address. Similar protests will be held in New York Sunday when Wen arrives there, and in Boston where Wen will address a Harvard audience later in the week.

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