Sat, Nov 22, 2003 - Page 3 News List

US would accept referendum and a new Taiwan constitution, senior official says

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

As China ratchets up its rhetoric over President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) determination to write a new constitution for Taiwan, a senior US official has said that Washington would accept the new document as long as it does not extend to decisions regarding Taiwan's independence.

"We understand their interest in pursuing a referendum toward a new constitution," Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific, Randall Schriver, told the Washington press corps on Thursday.

At the same time, Washington has been clear that it does not support Taiwan's independence.

"So, if any of these efforts touch on Taiwan's status in a way that [moves toward independence], we're not going to be supportive of that," he said.

Schriver stated, however, "whether to change the constitution is really Taiwanese domestic politics. We don't want to overly influence that," he said.

"So, it is really a matter of whether these efforts [to write a new constitution] are going to spill into those areas or lead us in that direction [toward independence]. If that's the case, the United States will not support it," Schriver said.

The State Department official's comments were believed to be the first time a senior US official has commented on the constitution itself. Most previous comments have focused on the plan for a referendum, which Washington officials have feared would deal with independence and independence-related issues, such as a change in the official name from the Republic of China.

It is certainly the first time that an administration official has said Washington would look acceptingly at a new constitution.

On the apparent rising verbal cross-strait tensions over the past week, Schriver said that "the volume is up a little bit, the rhetoric is up."

"We take that to mean that there are serious concerns in Beijing, and we listen to those, we acknowledge those," he said.

He confirmed that the issue was raised this week when his boss, Assistant Secretary James Kelly, visited Beijing and talked with senior Chinese foreign policy officials.

"He had an opportunity to reiterate our policy that our one-China policy is based on the three communiques and the Taiwan Relations Act, our non-support for Taiwanese independence, our opposition to the use of force.

"And he addressed some of our views about the ongoing [Taiwanese presidential] election campaign, that we support Taiwan's democracy, we support the electoral process, but we are neutral, we do not favor one candidate or another, nor are we in any way involved in shaping campaign policies or positions.

"These are the domestic politics of Taiwan, and the campaigns are unfolding as they see fit," Schriver said.

Regarding his statement about shaping campaign policies, Schriver noted that China has indicated it feels that the US has a hand in Taiwan's election campaigns.

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