Taiwan supporters in the US Congress and the Chinese Embassy in Washington have mounted a war of words over congressional moves to endorse next Saturday's referendum, but the Chinese actions are apparently backfiring by convincing more and more lawmakers to sign a letter expressing US backing for the referendum, congressional staffers say.
The congressional letter, which is being circulated by Representatives Peter Deutsch, a Florida Democrat, and Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican, was sent to House members Thursday morning.
But even before that, Chinese Ambassador Yang Jiechi (
That action, aides to the two representatives say, piqued the representative's interest -- and perhaps resentment -- resulting in a flood of phone calls to the two authors even before the Deutsch-Rohrabacher letters reached the members' offices.
The ambassador "is doing our legwork for us," an aide to Deutsch told the Taipei Times.
Deutsch reacted sharply Friday to the Chinese letter.
"The lobbying effort by China against my letter of support for the Taiwan people's democratic rights is chilling," he said in a statement.
Despite the ambassador's efforts, "the United States must always stand by democratic principles. I call on the Bush administration to do the same."
As a result, the letter, which a congressional aide said was originally "not meant to be a big deal," has blossomed into a major issue on Capitol Hill. Since the ambassador sent his e-mail "we have been receiving lots of calls," an aide said.
And, although the letter signing effort was limited to the House, word of the effort has reached the Senate, and a number of senators have also called seeking to sign on.
The idea of a letter arose after the Republican congressional leadership earlier this year refused to allow consideration of a resolution or bill formally committing Congress to backing the referendum.
That, in turn, Taiwan's congressional supporters say, was because Bush opposed any pro-Taiwan legislation in advance of the election, in keeping with the administration's suspicion of the referendum, which Bush voiced last December after meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶).
In the letter, addressed "To the people of Taiwan," the representative's say that "we believe that you, the people of Taiwan, have consistently demonstrated your passion for human rights, transparency, and the democratic process.
"Your 23 million citizens have earned the right to decide for yourselves the issue affecting your well-being and security. You have earned the right to hold exclusive responsibility for determining the future of Taiwan and to exercise democratic processes.
"This includes holding referenda free from intimidation or threat of force from any country including communist China."
In a cover memorandum attached to the letter, Deutsch and Rohrabacher urge their fellow lawmakers that, "as we have in the past, the US must support the right of the Taiwanese populace to speak its mind through a peaceful voting process."
It is not clear how many lawmakers have agreed to sign, but congressional staffers say that at this time they expect some 20 signatures. However, with the growing interest spurred by the Chinese e-mail, they say this could very well grow by the time in the middle of this week that they stop collecting signatures and try to circulate the letter in Taiwan.
In his letter, Yang quoted Bush's comments after the Wen meeting, in which Bush voiced opposition to President Chen Shui-bian's (
He also quoted in part a subsequent comment by Secretary of State Colin Powell in which he said, "we don't see a need for these referenda." At the time, Powell also said that it was up to Taiwan to decide whether or not to hold a referendum.
"President Bush and former President Clinton have all made it clear that the United States does not support `Taiwan independence,'" Yang claimed.
Yang expressed "grave concern" over the congressional letter, and charged that Chen is using the referendum only for his own political gain.
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