The White House on Wednesday called on China to deal directly with President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) rather than talk only to Taiwan's opposition leaders, in a statement glaringly at odds with statements from the State Department supporting opposition trips to China.
But it was unclear whether the two statements reflected a rift among US policymakers regarding the trip to China by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan (
"We hope that this is the start of Beijing finding new ways to reach out to President Chen and his Cabinet," White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters at his daily press briefing. "Because any long-term solution can only be found if Beijing negotiates with the duly elected leadership in Taiwan."
McClellan noted that administration officials "follow developments very closely in the region. We welcome dialogue between Beijing and major figures in Taiwan because we believe diplomacy is the only way to resolve cross-strait issues."
But he then qualified this endorsement with the call to Beijing to deal with Chen.
It was the first time a Bush administration spokesman had specifically named Chen in a response to questions about the trips.
And it was the first time that a spokesman had specifically called on China to "reach out" to Chen.
Significantly, McClellan's statement echoed sentiments expressed by outgoing Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Randall Schriver to the effect that cross-strait dialogue could succeed only if Beijing talks directly with the government.
Those opinions, it is believed, have never been reflected in official State Department pronouncements on the issue.
On Tuesday, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said the administration supports opposition trips as a way of promoting dialogue and helping a peaceful resolution of cross-strait tensions. In the past, he and other department spokesmen have welcomed the pan-blue-camp trips.
Asked about the discrepancy between the White House and State Department positions, Taiwan's de facto ambassador in Washington, David Lee Ta-wei (李大維), told the Taipei Times that the White House position is authoritative.
"I was told that the White House position is the Americans' official position," Lee said.
"As I understand it," Lee continued, after his regular monthly tea party press conference with Taiwan's Washington press corps, "the American position is twofold. The first part is that the US encourages dialogue and communication between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. The second part is that the US encourages the Chinese government to engage with the duly elected Taiwanese leaders."
Lee denied reports that the US had put pressure on Chen in recent weeks to accept the pan-blue-camp visits.
"No, that is not the case," Lee said.
"As I read it, I think the US position is very consistent. They encourage peaceful dialogue, and they respect the democratic leadership in Taiwan. That has been the consistent US principle," he said.
The Bush administration has a positive attitude toward Chen and his government, said Lee, whose formal title is the Representative of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the USA.
"Basically, they respect democratic institutions and they know that they need and have to work with the [Taiwanese] government, which they did and are still doing," Lee said. "I think that over the past few months since my arrival ... the communications between our two capitals have been very efficient and effective, and I think the relationship is quite smooth at this moment."
On other matters, Lee could not confirm recent press reports that US ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Stephen Young will replace Douglas Paal as head of the American Institute in Taiwan this summer. Paal is reportedly the next US ambassador to Singapore.
The decision on Paal's replacement "is not finalized yet," Lee said.
He said that of the various names mentioned in newspapers regarding replacements for outgoing US administration officials, "many of them are quite accurate."
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