Sat, Apr 22, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Bush treads softly while admonishing Hu

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

US President George W. Bush admonished China on Thursday for its massive missile buildup aimed at Taiwan with a new term analysts believe reflects a subtle shift in US cross-strait policy.

Bush made the remarks during his meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤).

At the same time, the administration rejected China's interpretation of President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) recent action on the National Unification Council, saying it was not a change in the cross-strait "status quo," as Beijing had claimed. In the process, Bush appeared to have resisted Chinese pressure for him to publicly criticize Chen on the issue.

On China's missile buildup, Bush said in his remarks during the White House welcoming ceremony that, "we urge all parties to avoid confrontational and provocative acts [in the Taiwan Strait]."

The Taipei Times has learned that the word "confrontational" was inserted into Bush's remarks as a new term that the White House will use to express dissatisfaction with the Chinese missile buildup, which has seen more than 800 ballistic missiles targeted at Taiwan over the past dozen years.

"The administration has used `provocative' many times," said John Tkacik, a Taiwan specialist with the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank.

"What we're looking at is a new code word for missiles, and we should pay closer attention to that in the coming months," he said.

The word "provocative" has been used to refer to moves made by Chen in the past, such as his holding of a referendum during the 2004 presidential election, his plans for constitutional reform, and, more recently, his mothballing of the National Unification Council.

The new formulation appeared to balance such references, observers said.

"I think it was aimed at both sides," said Michael Fonte, the Democratic Progressive Party's Washington liaison. "I think the `confrontational' side is the Chinese side with its missile buildup, while `provocation' probably refers to Taiwan."

Administration officials have confirmed this interpretation.

At a photo opportunity two hours later, after a private meeting between the two leaders with only top aides present, Bush said that the two "spent time talking about Taiwan," but revealed little about what was discussed.

He did reiterate that Washington "does not support" Taiwanese independence, repeating the phrase twice for emphasis.

Observers said that was an apparent rebuff to Hu, who during the welcoming ceremony said that the US side had "stated on various occasions" that it was committed to "opposing Taiwan independence," a phrase that the Bush administration has insisted it has never uttered publicly.

During the photo opportunity, Hu said something that revealed the difference in interpretation between Beijing and Washington of Chen's action on the unification council.

Hu asserted, according to translated remarks, that in their private meeting, Bush "said that he hoped that the move taken by the Taiwanese authorities to alter the status quo would not upset the China-US relationship, which I highly appreciate."

Not quite, said Dennis Wilder, the head of the US National Security Council and the man who negotiated the final wording on the unification council issue.

"We did not, in any way, make a determination [as to whether or not the cessation of the unification council] was a change in the status quo," Wilder told a press briefing.

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