The US hit out at China's newly-adopted "anti-secession" law Monday, describing it as an "unfortunate" and "unhelpful" action that could increase tensions.
The legislation, adopted earlier in the day by China's rubber-stamp National People's Congress, "does not serve the purpose of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait," said White House press secretary Scott McClellan.
Responding to the law's authorizing the use of "non-peaceful means" against Taiwan, McClellan said: "We oppose any attempts to determine the future of Taiwan by anything other than peaceful means."
"We don't want to see any unilateral attempts that would increase tensions in this region. So this is not helpful," he said.
McClellan also repeated that the administration does not support Taiwan's independence.
The anti-secession law is certain to come up during Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's trip to Asia this week, which will include a stop in Beijing later in the week.
"We will be, I am sure, talking about Taiwan during the course of the trip," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
"Our view remains that they need to move in the direction of peaceful dialogue. She will encourage them to do that, and look forward to hearing from them as to how they might be willing to move in that direction," and what they might be willing to do, he said.
On the eve of her trip, Rice criticized the law, saying "it raises tensions, and it's not necessary or a good thing to raise tensions."
In an interview on Sunday morning television, Rice described the US as "an upright anchor in this dispute for a long time."
"The key is that there should be no effort on either side to unilaterally change the status quo," she said, adding that it is "far too early to make conclusions" about whether the law invalidates the long-standing assumption that as China becomes more prosperous, it will become more peaceful.
Meanwhile, the Republican congressional leadership apparently is still resisting pressure to pass a resolution condemning the anti-secession law. An agenda for this week's floor activity in the House, where such resolutions usually get their first airing, contains no provision for debating or voting on either of two resolutions introduced by House members last month urging the Bush administration to strongly oppose the anti-secession law.
As the administration voiced its concerns over the new Chinese law Monday, the State Department also cautioned the Chen administration from taking potentially incendiary countermeasures.
"We have urged both sides to avoid any steps that raise tensions. We have encouraged both sides to avoid any steps to try to define unilaterally some kind of solution to their differences," Boucher said.
But he declined to answer directly a question about the planned March 26 demonstrations against the law or any other action Chen might take.
"I don't have any particular view of a demonstration or a counter-reaction, as hypothetical as it is right now," he said.
"The issues between Taiwan and [China] need to be solved in dialogue. Neither side is going to get anywhere with unilateral steps," he reiterated.
Boucher could not say whether the passage of the law will have an impact on US efforts to convince the EU not to go through with its plans to lift its arms embargo on China.
But he said that the prospect of a Chinese attack on Taiwan "should be disserving to the Europeans as it is to us."