Sat, May 08, 2004 - Page 3 News List

US official urges care in speech

INAUGURATION SPEECHA senior US official said Chen Shui-bian would best avoid language that riles China, but said US-Taiwan ties were healthier than many thought

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

A senior White House official hopes that President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) will not cite the principle of "one country on each side" of the Taiwan Strait or use other provocative language in his inauguration speech to avoid increasing cross-strait tensions, sources say.

Clifford Hart, the director of Chinese affairs at the US National Security Council, was speaking on Thursday at a seminar in Washington on the implications of Taiwan's presidential election, according to sources permitted to witness the presentation.

The press was excluded from the session, which was attended by, among others, officials from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office and the American Institute in Taiwan.

The use of the phrase "one country on each side" by Chen "would not be helpful" and "provocative phrases ought to be avoided," Hart was quoted by participants as saying.

Hart was also quoted as saying that the Bush administration hoped Chen "does not rule out any options for Taiwan's future."

It would be helpful "if he speaks to the aspirations of the Taiwan people and he lays out what his program is going to be for the next four years," Hart was quoted as saying.

But according to another participant, Hart said that "at the end of the day, [Chen] is a democratically elected president and he can say whatever he wants."

Although Bush administration officials have been consulting with Taiwan's representatives in Washington about the inauguration speech, this is believed to be the first time a senior US official has commented on the speech before a broad audience.

Hart spent much of his presentation discussing China's military threat to Taiwan and warning that it should not be taken lightly. In this, he was repeating the basic position of Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs James Kelly in testimony before the US House of Representatives International Relations Committee last month.

Hart also reportedly sharply criticized China for threatening to launch an attack on Taiwan and described the military buildup as "outrageous" and "in violation of contemporary international norms."

"We don't like it but we can't ignore it. We expect Taiwan to take this threat seriously," he was quoted as saying.

Overall, Hart played down talk of a split between Taipei and Washington.

"He went to great lengths to say that things are not as bad as some people think," one participant said.

"This is not a fundamentally troubled relationship," Hart was quoted as saying, before going on to stress that the Bush administration was deeply supportive of Taiwan's democracy.

The head of the Pentagon's China desk, Colonel Roy Kamphausen, also spoke to the seminar on an off-the-record basis. The Taipei Times, as a non-participant, did not agree to this condition.

SERIOUS CHALLENGE

Kamphausen complained about a decade-long reduction to Taiwan's defense budget and said he hoped that it would be boosted in the near future, according to audience members.

"This is a serious challenge but not an irreversible one," he was quoted as saying.

Kamphausen, though, put more emphasis on structural and management problems relating to Taiwan's military, rather than on a need for new weapons systems.

"It's not so much the hardware; it's really the software," one participant quoted Kamphausen as saying.

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