American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Chairman Raymond Burghardt yesterday warned President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) not to make any decisions during the remainder of his term in office that would cause problems for his successor.
"One of the wonderful things about democracy is that when new leaders come in, the new leaders present a new opportunity -- a new opportunity to solve problems and deal with important issues," he said.
In Taiwan's case, Burghardt said a new leader would be inaugurated in May and would have a new opportunity to deal with all of the nation's regional challenges.
"And of course above all that includes relations across the Taiwan Strait," he said. "To carry on the work of the president before him and to look for new solutions. So that new president will, regardless of who it is, have to make up his mind about how to deal with those issues."
It is therefore very important, Burghardt said, for everyone involved in the Taiwan Strait issue -- Taiwan's government, the leaders in Beijing and the US -- to say and do the right things to give Taiwan's new leader that opportunity in May.
"All the comments we made in the last few months have been made in the regard of preserving that opportunity," he said.
In addition to the preservation of Taiwan's democracy, the other issue that concerns the US is Taiwan's stability, Burghardt said.
Burghardt made his remarks at a meeting with Chen at the Presidential Office yesterday afternoon. Burghardt's visit comes hot on the heels of US opposition to Taiwan's UN referendum voiced by the director of the AIT office,, Stephen Young, and US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Thomas Christensen.
Chen said that he could not predict what the new leader would do, nor would he tell him what to do, but the US government should rest assured that he would keep his promises during the remainder of his presidency.
Chen said that as a responsible leader and the first from a former opposition party, he made the "four noes and one without" pledge during his inaugural address in 2000. The pledge constitutes the core foundation of cross-strait peace, security and stability, he said.
While he bowed to US pressure and compromised on the nation's first national referendum in 2004, Chen said there was a lot more he could have done. But he refrained in the interests of stability in the Taiwan Strait and the nation's friendship with the US, he said.
Emphasizing that the referendum seeking UN membership did not violate his commitments, Chen said he could not stop the campaign as it comes from the bottom up and represents the collective will of the people of Taiwan to join the international body.
In an interview with the Associated Press after his meeting with Burghardt, Chen dismissed reports that he was planning to declare independence.
He said such reports were Chinese propaganda designed to influence US decision-making on the matter and to scare Washington into intervening in next year's elections and referendums.
Meanwhile, the AIT confirmed yesterday that Burghardt had met with Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou (
The AIT refused to reveal when the meetings had taken place or what was on the agenda.
Sources said Burghardt met with Ma shortly after he arrived in Taiwan on Saturday at Ma's campaign office. Ma's running mate Vincent Siew (蕭萬長), KMT Legislator Su Chi (蘇起) also attended the meeting, they said.
"We talked for a long time, touching on a wide number of topics. The talks proceeded in a friendly atmosphere, but I can't tell you details on the basis of the principle of good faith," Su said.
Burghardt met with Minister of Foreign Affairs James Huang (黃志芳) yesterday afternoon. Huang told journalists afterwards that although Taiwan and the US had different opinions on some political issues, the overall US-Taiwan relationship remains sound.
"There is still lot of room for communication between the two sides," Huang said.
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