Sat, Aug 21, 2004 - Page 4 News List

Mark Chen slams `unfit' Aussie minister Downer

NO COURAGE Chen was so angry about his Australian counterpart's accusation that Taiwan has been ramping up cross-strait tension that his aides had to intervene

By Joy Su  /  STAFF WRITER , IN TAITUNG, WITH AP

Amid suggestions that Australia might not support the US in the event of cross-strait military conflict, Minister of Foreign Affairs Mark Chen (陳唐山) criticized Australian foreign affairs officials yesterday for blaming cross-strait tension on Taiwan during their recent visit to Beijing.

"When the Australian foreign minister [Alexander Downer] went to China, he told them that he hoped that Taiwan would refrain from provoking cross-strait tensions. I was not present, but if I were, I would tell him that he was not thinking clearly," Chen said yesterday in Taitung.

"They [China] have 500 missiles aimed at Taiwan -- but then [Downer] visits China and is afraid to say anything. The US has a bit of courage at least and is willing to tell China to its face that the `Taiwan issue' needs to be resolved peacefully and that China should not use military force," Chen said.

"But then [Downer] visits China and states that Taiwan should not provoke the situation. He does not even mention the fact that as a large nation, China cannot use military force and attack Taiwan without causing regional instability," he said.

Adamant

Becoming more adamant, Chen continued to speak on the issue even as his aides tried to push reporters away.

"This kind of behavior makes one unfit to be called a courageous politician," Chen said.

"Tension across the Taiwan Strait is not our fault. The ball is in their court. How they choose to pass this ball to us is their responsibility, not ours. It is not Taiwan that causes cross-strait tension but the `large country' that has the ability to attack us," Chen said.

Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister John Howard yesterday played down suggestions that Australia would not back the US if it was drawn into a war between China and Taiwan as the issue became the unlikely focus of pre-election campaigning.

The opposition Labor Party accused Downer of a major diplomatic blunder for telling reporters in Beijing that Canberra would not automatically help the US defend Taiwan.

Under a US-Australian defense treaty, the two countries will assist each other in the event of an attack or conflict with a third country.

But as Australia begins talks with Beijing over a possible free trade deal, Downer's remarks highlight the difficulty Australia faces should it be forced to choose between its growing economic interests in China and its long-standing military allegiance with the US.

China is Australia's fastest-growing trading partner and fourth-largest export market. Trade between the two nations totaled A$23 billion (US$16.4 billion) in 2002.

Dilemma

Howard dismissed the issue as "hypothetical," but highlighted the dilemma Canberra faces.

"America has no more reliable ally than Australia and I am not ashamed to say that," he told radio station 3AW. "But we have interests in Asia. We have a separate, strong growing relationship with China, and it is not in Australia's interests for there to be conflict between America and China."

Vice Foreign Minister Michael Kau (高英茂) told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Thursday that Taipei was "disappointed" by Downer's remarks, but hoped that Australia's commitment to its security treaty with the US would remain "firm and predictable."

Meanwhile, the Labor Party sought to make political mileage from the debate ahead of federal elections due by year's end. Labor foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd, a former Beijing-based diplomat, accused Downer of a serious diplomatic gaffe.

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