The US Monday came down squarely against any attempt to change the name of Taiwan's semi-official presence in Washington from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) in the US, saying any change would alter Taiwan's status quo, which would run afoul of a basic tenet of the Bush administration's policy toward Taiwan.
State Department Spokesman Adam Ereli expressed the administration's unhappiness with the proposed name changes in response to statements by President Chen Shui-bian (
"These changes of terminology for government-controlled enterprises or economic and cultural offices abroad," Ereli told reporters in his daily press briefing, "in our view, would appear to unilaterally change Taiwan's status, and for that reason, we're not supportive of them."
"The United States has an interest in maintaining stability of the Taiwan Strait," Ereli asserted. "And we are, therefore, opposed to any unilateral steps that would change the status quo."
Responding to Ereli's statement, former American Institute in Taiwan chairman Nat Bellocchi conceded that a name change for TECRO "could come closer to sovereignty issues" than any changes in the names of state-controlled corporations, which are an internal affairs.
As a result, the Chen administration should "proceed carefully" with any plans for such name changes, said Bellocchi, who was AIT chairman from 1990 to 1995.
Taiwan's office in Washington was set up in 1979, after the Carter administration switched official diplomatic recognition of China from the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regime in Taipei to the People's Republic of China in Beijing.
It was then called the Coordination Council for North American Affairs (CCNAA), and was created under the Taiwan Relations Act that established the unofficial US-Taiwan ties that continue to this day.
The name of CCNAA was changed to its current name, usually referred to as TECRO, in 1994, under a Taiwan policy review conducted that year by the Clinton administration. Under TECRO are 12 other Taiwan offices in various US cities, which were and are called Taipei Economic and Cultural Offices (TECO).
TECRO acts as the unofficial Taiwan embassy in Washington, and its head is regularly referred to as "ambassador" by individuals and members of Congress alike, although most government officials shun that title.
Within a year after CCNAA was changed to TECRO, supporters of Taiwan in Congress began attempts to change the name again, to the Taiwan Representative Office.
A bill authorizing State Department programs for the fiscal years 1996 and 1997 contained a provision making such a change. The bill was passed by both the House and Senate, but President Bill Clinton vetoed it for a wide variety of reasons, and Congress failed to override the veto.
One of the reasons for his decision, Clinton said in his veto message, was a provision that would amend the Taiwan Relations Act to state that it superceded the 1982 third joint communique, which called for the eventual reduction in US arms sales to Taiwan.
The communique was "one of the cornerstones of our bipartisan policy toward China" and the provision would "complicate, not facilitate" US-China relations," Clinton said in his veto message. He did not raise any objection to the provision to change the name of TECRO, however.