Fri, Oct 03, 2003 - Page 3 News List

Taiwan reassures US over plan for new constitution

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

Taiwanese officials in Taipei and Washington appear to have allayed fears among US officials over President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) weekend announcement that he would plan to write a new constitution for Taiwan in 2006 if he is reelected to the presidency.

A series of urgent meetings between Taiwanese and American officials appears to have assuaged Washington's fears that Chen's statement would bring a strong Chinese reaction and poison the US-Taiwan-China triangular situation.

The Taiwanese officials also appear to have calmed Washington anger over Chen's failure to notify the US beforehand of his constitutional demarche. The situation appeared to have been a replay of previous Chen pronouncements in which he failed to warn Washington beforehand, including his statement that there is "one country on each side" of the Taiwan Strait, and his plan to hold a referendum to coincide with next March's presidential election.

In the wake of the firestorm that erupted in response to Chen's constitution announcement, the George W. Bush administration dispatched the head of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), Therese Shaheen, and Deputy Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific Randall Shriver on Sunday to meet with Minister of Foreign Affairs Eugene Chien, in Baltimore, where he was visiting at the time, to solicit his views on Chen's pronouncement.

In Taipei, Secretary General of the Presidential Office Chiou I-jen (邱義仁), held a meeting with AIT Director Douglas Paal to explain Chen's words. It is not known whether the meeting was held before Chen's speech, at the time of the speech. or afterward.

In Washington, the head of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office, Chen Chien-jen (程建人), and his top aides, held urgent meetings with officials of the White House and State Department, to explain Chen's words.

They made the following points, according to Taiwanese sources in Washington:

The new constitution would not deal with issues related to independence or unification with China. It would deal only with domestic political issues such as the size of the legislature, whether Taiwan would have a three-sided or five-sided government, and whether the government would be a presidential or a parliamentary style.

"They seemed to understand it better," a Taiwanese source said of the US administrations' position after the briefings.

Nevertheless, the Bush administration was concerned over Chen's remarks, and may still be concerned, over China's potential response to Chen's announcement and how that might affect Beijing-Taiwan-Washington trilateral ties.

"They may not like it," but at least Washington has a better understanding of Chen's intentions, a source said. The US' main concern is over the peace and stability of cross-strait relations, the source said.

The Taiwanese representatives' explanations in the US and Taiwan appear to ease those concerns, Taiwanese officials feel.

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