Wed, Oct 01, 2003 - Page 3 News List

US reminds Chen of campaign promises

STABILITY STRESSED The State Department and regional experts in Washington say it is hard to gauge Chen Shui-bian's intentions toward constitutional reforms

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

Reaction in Washington to President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) plan for a new Constitution was subdued Monday as officials and Taiwan-watchers struggled to figure out what he was planning to do and the scope of the constitutional changes he envisions.

But the George W. Bush administration was said to be angered that it was not informed beforehand of Chen's comments, a replay of the anger Washington officials felt when Chen announced his "one country on either side" of the Taiwan Strait remarks last year and his plans to hold a referendum during next March's presidential election.

Some observers feel that Washington might expect Chen to send an envoy to Washington to explain his intentions, as Mainland Affairs Council Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) traveled to Washington af-ter Chen's earlier declaration.

The State Department's initial reaction was tentative. When asked, department spokesman Richard Boucher pointed to Chen's 2000 election pledge not to change the name of Taiwan, not to declare independence, not to add the "state-to-state" model to the Constitution and not to promote a referendum on independence or unification with China.

"We have expressed our support and appreciation for that pledge ... [and] we continue to take it very seriously," Boucher said.

"Our position is clear: that President Chen has said these things, and that we continued to take them seriously and believe they should be adhered to," he said. Boucher described the pledges as "fundamental to stability in the Taiwan Strait."

But he refused to get into the domestic Taiwanese political ramifications of Chen's pronouncement.

Specialists on Taiwan noted that it is still too early to say what Chen meant in the few sentences he devoted to the pledge, made during the Democratic Progressive Party's 17th birthday celebration, to draft a new Constitution in 2006.

"There is so little information that it is hard to make a judgment," said Richard Bush, former head of the American Institute in Taiwan and now director of the Brookings Institute's Center for Northeast Asia Policy Studies.

"Unless you can know whether this is more constitutional amendments to fix the problems in the current system, or something much more than that, it's hard to say," he said.

Bush said he did not necessarily read Chen's statement as meaning Chen plans to use constitutional reform to declare something akin to independence.

"Until we have more details, I think it's premature to jump to that kind of conclusion," he said.

John Tkacik, a scholar with the Heritage Foundation who has studied Taiwan for decades, feels that the administration's reaction will be to play down Chen's remarks.

The State Department's reaction is likely to be "this is the silly season in Taiwan, and you simply have to put up with it," Tkacik said, using the phrase "silly season" to mean the runup to the election.

"This is very vague" and is "not spelled out with any specificity," he said.

"Whatever happens," he said, "it is not going to be that big a deal."

But Shelly Rigger, a professor at Davidson College in North Carolina and a leading US expert on Taiwan, feels that the administration "will look at it as another unwelcome and unexpected surprise comparable to `one country on either side.' I don't think this administration wants to have the Taiwan issue heat up right now."

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