Wed, Oct 17, 2007 - Page 1 News List

US praises Hu's `moderate tone' on cross-strait issue

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

The administration of US President George W. Bush has praised Chinese President Hu Jintao's (胡錦濤) call for negotiations with Taiwan on cross-strait relations as "a step in the right direction," but reminded Beijing that Taiwan must sign off on any conditions attached to such talks.

"The United States notes the moderate tone of President Hu's statement made today on the issue of cross-Taiwan Strait relations," National Security Council (NSC) spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in a statement.

"We believe that President Hu's remarks were a step in the right direction on seeking to reinvigorate a cross-strait dialogue," he said.

The statement did not refer to Hu's insistence that any dialogue be based on Beijing's "one China" principle, but it did say that the Taiwanese must be consulted.

"As to President Hu's specific proposals, it is up to the people on both sides of the Straits [sic] to decide the terms and conditions under which exchanges, dialogue and consultations occur," Johndroe said.

The White House spokesman's statement is the latest in a string of high-level Bush administration pronouncements on Taiwan that have generally been favorable to Chinese positions.

They include Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte's interview with a Hong Kong television station -- during which he used Beijing's formulation on the issue to criticize President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) plan for a referendum on UN membership as a move toward a declaration of independence -- and comments by Dennis Wilder, the NSC's senior director for East Asian affairs, that Taiwan does not qualify for UN membership because it is not a nation.

Some sources expressed surprise at the statement by the NSC, which is the president's chief advisory body on international affairs and does not usually issue statements on cross-strait relations, usually deferring to the State Department.

The sources saw it as reflecting a possible understanding between Bush and Hu, perhaps reached at their summit on the sidelines of last month's Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Sydney, Australia, on developments in Taiwan and actions by Chen.

But the sources also pointed out that the NSC statement focused on the "tone" of Hu's speech as much as its content.

In that respect, US officials were said to be relieved that Hu refrained from making bellicose statements such as threatening the use of force against Taiwan, and that he failed to mention sensitive topics such as the "Anti-Secession" Law, which codifies a Chinese attack on Taiwan under certain circumstances.

In Sydney, Bush and Hu discussed Taiwan extensively during their 90-minute meeting, focusing on Chen's plan for an election-day referendum on Taiwan's entry into the UN under the name "Taiwan," according to Wilder and other administration spokesmen at the time.

But while Wilder voiced Washington's opposition to the referendum plan, calling it "perplexing," he also said Bush would reiterate the US demand that any cross-strait settlement be peaceful.

Wilder told reporters in a press briefing in advance of the APEC meeting that Bush would tell Hu that China's missiles and other military buildup facing Taiwan was "worrisome" and that "we certainly do not want to see any situation in which Beijing would consider the use of force or the threat of force against Taiwan."

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