American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Director Stephen Young yesterday warned Taiwan not to address the independence issue in constitutional reforms, for fear of dragging the US into a war.
Although it is up to the Taiwanese public to decide whether to alter the Constitution, the US was not inclined to see changes leading toward Taiwan's independence, he said.
Young made the remarks yesterday in response to a question by a member of the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei about President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) plan to revise the Constitution.
Citing testimony by US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick in the House International Relations Committee on Wednesday, Young said: "We oppose Taiwan independence and we believe that, as he said, independence can bring a war which will draw the United States in."
"That is not a sign of disrespect for the people of Taiwan, but simply a reality of the current East Asian security environment. So I think that constitutional change needs to be looked at carefully in a manner that does not address that kind of issue [independence] or there will be concerns in my country," Young said.
Questioned by reporters later, Young corrected his remarks, saying "it was accidental" that he'd said "oppose."
"It's proper to say we don't support ? it's always been our policy not to support [Taiwan's independence]," he said.
Young was delivering a speech to members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei. It was his first public address since becoming AIT director in March.
In his speech, Young appeared to imply that Taiwan should exercise caution in altering its Constitution by drawing on the US' approach of setting a high bar for constitutional change.
There have been six amendments to Taiwan's Constitution in the last decade.
He said there have only been 17 amendments to the US Constitution since its enactment in 1791 and US society had continued to refine its democratic system over the last 200 years thanks to a durable constitutional framework.
Commenting on Taiwan-US ties in view of the recent transit spat, Young said the incident would not hurt bilateral relations.
"We have had our disagreements, as close friends inevitably do. President Chen's recent trip to Latin America in which he chose not to transit the US is a case in point. But such issues can never be allowed to distract us from our enduring common interests," he said.
"Frankly, we are looking ahead now. We have a lot of business to do with the Chen administration in the remaining two years of his administration. And he knows that I am here and representing American interests to make the most of it," he said.
He also said it was important for China to initiate direct dialogue with Taiwan's elected leaders, despite Beijing's efforts to foster ties with Taiwan's opposition parties.
He restated the US' policy of opposing any threat or use of force to compel Taiwan's "acquiescence to a one-sided accommodation" and discouraged China and Taiwan from engaging in zero-sum calculations.
On cross-strait trade and investment, Young said it was important to a viable Taiwanese economy.
Regarding the negotiation of a US-Taiwan Free Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), Young said Deputy US Trade Representative Karan Bhatia would travel to Taiwan soon for the next round of TIFA meetings.