Thu, May 20, 2004 - Page 2 News List

James Leach: The US is proud of Taiwan

APPREHENSIVE The seniority of the US delegation at the presidential inauguration reinforces US support for Taiwan, but the delegation's head said caution was needed

By Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

US Congressman James Leach, leader of the US delegation at today's inauguration ceremony for President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), said yesterday the US is "proud" of Taiwan's democracy but does not welcome any moves toward independence.

Leach, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, said Beijing's statement on Taiwan on Monday showed China has serious concerns.

"This is a time for great caution on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. The US has a long-term approach that does not welcome the idea of independence. We are very apprehensive that events could get out of control," Leach said.

Leach and other members of the US delegation, including American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Director Douglas Paal, joined a reception ahead of the presidential inauguration at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall last night.

Commenting on the strongly-worded statement from Beijing, Leach said the statement contained a moderate degree of optimism that communication would improve.

But the statement also included a degree of coercion that "might not be helpful," Leach noted.

"We are very hopeful there would be great caution at this time on both sides," he said. "For the sake of the people of Taiwan, we are hopeful that the tension will not increase."

But Leach affirmed the support of the US government for Taiwan's political development.

"The US government is ... proud of the way in which Taiwan democracy is expressing itself in terms of free elections," Leach said.

Asked whether the US wanted to see Chen repeat his "five noes" pledge in today's inauguration speech, Leach said Chen is a "very extraordinarily intelligent" and "thoughtful" man who writes his own speeches.

Leach and the US delegation met with Chen yesterday, but the congressman said he did not know what the president will say in the speech.

"I would be surprised if it is an antagonistic speech," he said.

Commenting on Chen's agenda for constitutional reform by 2006, Leach said that the US would like Taiwan's democratic processes to unfold in a way that recognizes the reality behind the cross-strait situation.

Meanwhile, Richard Bush, one of three former AIT directors to join today's inauguration ceremony, said the statement Beijing made on Monday was "consistent with past positions."

Also attending the reception, Bush said, "The leadership in China is worried its message is not getting through to the people of Taiwan, so they want to restate it clearly.

"On the one hand, they offered some benefits; on the other hand, it set a fairly high price to get the benefits. President Chen has to abandon separatist activities. Many of the things President Chen does, in China's interpretations, fall into that category," Bush said.

But if Beijing sincerely wants progress in cross-strait relations, it has to "moderate its position even more," he said.

Bush added that if Chen's constitutional reforms focus on political institutions, it would be proper for China to accept the reforms.

During his first term, Chen had abided by his "five noes" pledge, Bush said.

AIT interim chairman William Brown told the reception that Taiwan-US ties will remain "very good."

Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski and lieutenant governors from California and Kansas will witness today's ceremony. Kansas Lieutenant Governor John Moore also attended the opening of his state's trade office in Taipei on Tuesday.

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