Thu, May 31, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Chen teleconference vexes US officials

TELEPRESENCE The president's video conference, in which he asserted the nation's independence, may have violated bans on top Taiwanese officials visiting Washington

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

US State Department officials dealing with Taiwan were angered by President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) teleconference at the National Press Club in Washington on Tuesday in which he asserted Taiwan's independence to an international audience, with at least one official charging that Chen's appearance violated the US ban on Taiwanese presidents visiting Washington, Taipei Times sources said.

The anger did not necessarily extend beyond the department's East Asia and Pacific bureaus, or reflect the feeling of the entire Bush administration, the sources said, but it did highlight what many Taiwan supporters in Washington feel is a basic anti-Taiwan, pro-China bent among key State Department officials who play an important role in determining US cross-strait policy.

In view of the sensitive role Taiwan policy plays in Washington, all sources spoke on condition of anonymity.

Historic performance

Chen's speech, and his response to reporters' questions, was considered an historic yet controversial performance in which he expressed a number of positions that likely made State Department officials squirm.

One prominent State Department official responsible for Taiwan policy told colleagues before the speech that nobody "in my chain," or section, would be allowed to attend, saying that Chen was "using teleconference technology to circumvent the ban on Taiwanese presidents coming to Washington," a Taipei Times source said.

As a result, no US official attended the teleconference, as far as can be determined from Press Club officials and other informed attendees.

It is understood that Taiwan's de facto ambassador to the US Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) tried to convince State Department officials to send somebody to the event, but that his efforts failed.

A department official denied any official effort to boycott the speech, saying that "this is a private organization holding the event, and we would not discourage freedom of speech."

No department official signed the guest book for the teleconference, and the organizer of the event, club newsmaker committee vice chairman Peter Hickman, said that no department official had contacted him about the presentation.

State Department guidelines implemented in 1979 ban Taiwan's president and other senior officials from visiting Washington, as part of Washington's "one China" policy. A 1994 law passed by Congress overrode those restrictions, but no administration has implemented the law's provisions to allow Taiwan's president and other high-ranking officials to visit Washington.

Independence

US officials are upset over Chen's use of the speech to declare that Taiwan is an independent country and that the "status quo" in the Taiwan Strait presupposes that.

"Our views on this issue are well known," one State Department official said in response to Chen's speech.

"We do not support Taiwan's independence. The US has a `one China' policy in accordance with the three US-China joint communiques and the Taiwan Relations Act. We do not support steps to change the status quo by either side," he said.

But in his speech, Chen said that "Taiwan is an independent, sovereign country, and our sovereignty is independent from the rule of China."

Resurrecting his earlier "one country on each side" of the Strait formula, Chen challenged Washington's "one China" policy, saying that "including Taiwan as part of the People's Republic of China not only ignores a historical fact, but also directly challenges the status quo in the Taiwan Strait by attempting to change and damage that status quo."

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