A top George W. Bush official criticized President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) referendum plan once again Monday, just hours before Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) arrived in Washington for a visit to be capped by a planned lengthy meeting with President George W. Bush yesterday in which Taiwan is expected to be a major topic of discussion.
But White House and State Department spokesmen stressed that Bush will reiterate Washington's long-standing Taiwan policy when the two leaders meet.
Wen kicked off his visit with a half-hour evening meeting with Secretary of State Colin Powell, who then hosted a dinner for Wen and his party.
In remarks before the dinner, Powell avoided any discussion of Taiwan or other differences between Washington and Beijing, saying the occasion was meant for both sides to "relax."
Earlier in the day, a senior US official criticized the referendum planned by Chen on March 20, reiterating the Bush administra-tion's position that it does not support Taiwan moves toward independence, and indicating that the administration sees the referendum plan as an independence move.
"We don't want to see Taiwan moving toward independence. We won't want to see any unilateral moves in that direction," the official said to a group of White House reporters, according to wire service reports.
At the same time, the official said that Bush would warn Wen when he meets him against any provocative action in the Taiwan Strait.
"We don't want to see the main-land moving toward coercion," the official was quoted as saying.
He said that Washington must "make it clear" to China that recent US criticism of Chen and his plans "is not a green light for you to contemplate the use of force or coercion against Taiwan," the reports said.
The official criticized Chen, saying he "seems to be pushing the envelop pretty vigorously" on issues related to Taiwan's status, which makes the administration "uncomfortable."
"We're giving the Taiwanese the message very clearly and authoritatively," the official reportedly said, a possible reference to earlier reports that National Security Council China expert James Moriarty last week delivered a letter from Bush to Chen warning against provocative cross-strait actions.
He also said that Washington has been more explicit than in the past on its "one China" policy.
"What you're seeing here is the dropping of the ambiguity for both sides because we cannot sort of imply to the Taiwan side that we're sort of agnostic toward moves toward Taiwan independence," he said.
However, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said at his regular daily press briefing on Monday that the US position toward Taiwan and China has not been altered in recent weeks.
"The president's position is very clear, and it remains unchanged when it comes to Taiwan and China," he said.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher echoed McClellan's statement.
"The Chinese are quite clear on our position," he told reporters. "They understand what we've said before. And we'll be happy to make very clear once again our `one China' policy."
Bush was to welcome Wen with a formal ceremony on the White House south lawn replete with a 19-gun salute, and the two will meet through lunch.
Wen arrived in Washington Monday afternoon from New York, where, in a joint press conference with UN Secretary-General Kofni Annan, he warned that Beijing would not tolerate an independent Taiwan and charged that the planned referendum is a "cover" for a break away from China.