The US would look favorably on a visit to Taiwan by the head of China's Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO), Chen Yunlin (陳雲林), but would also continue to press Beijing to open dialogue directly with the Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) government, a State Department official said on Thursday.
Thomas Christensen, who took over as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in charge of Taiwan, China, Hong Kong and Mongolian affairs last month, told Taiwanese reporters that the trip would be viewed positively as an example of the cross-strait dialogue that Washington favors.
"In general, our position is we encourage cross-strait contacts, and this would be another example of cross-strait dialogue and contact," he said, in his first public pronouncement since assuming the post.
"In general, we see that as a positive phenomenon," Christensen added.
The official said that Washington "encourages Beijing to have direct dialogue with the duly elected leaders of Taiwan."
Christensen added that to date, "we haven't been satisfied with [China's] willingness to have direct dialogue" with the government, "but we continue to urge them to do so. It seems like the best way to increase contacts across the Strait."
Chen Yunlin is planning to visit Taipei in October at the invitation of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) to attend a forum on agricultural cooperation jointly sponsored by the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party.
Christensen made his comments after testifying on the US administration's attitude toward China's role in the world before the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a congressional advisory body.
In Taipei, Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Vice Chairman Liu Te-shun (劉德勳) yesterday commented on the US official's emphasis on the need for Beijing to conduct "direct dialogue with the duly elected leaders of Taiwan."
"The [official's] comment on [Chen Yunlin's visit being a] `positive phenomenon' is only valid when viewed in relation to the next sentence [direct dialogue with the duly elected leaders of Taiwan]," Liu said.
Council Chairman Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) noted that it was necessary to have prior government-to-government consultations before Chen Yunlin could be granted permission to come to Taiwan for the KMT event.
"The government's stance on [Chen Yunlin's visit] is that there must be a consultation beforehand and mutual respect is upheld," Wu said.
Back in Washington, in response to questions on Taiwan by hearing co-chairman Dan Blumenthal, Christensen said he felt that the US' policy on Taiwan has been successful in recent years in creating greater stability in the Strait compared with earlier years.
A frequent visitor to China, Christensen said, "At present, my impression is that people in China who are well versed in these issues are a bit more confident that stability can be maintained in the near term than perhaps they were a couple of years earlier."
He said he could not say whether that confidence stemmed from "Chinese internal discussions about the future of unification" or from the recognition "that cross-strait relations are stable and the United States is playing a constructive role."
On prospects for a US-Taiwan Free Trade Agreement (FTA), Christensen moved to dispel the feeling that the Bush administration would not sign one with Taiwan.
"I don't think any determination has been made by any part of the US government that says that a free trade agreement with Taiwan is not something that we are going to pursue," he said.