Sat, Sep 03, 2005 - Page 3 News List

Taiwan problem low on the list at US-PRC summit

PRIORITIES The impasse over Taiwan's sovereignty is so ingrained that the US and China will likely give the matter lip service, then move on to other matters

BY CHARLES SNYDER  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

US President George W. Bush's summit with Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) in Washington this coming week is not expected to result in any new developments in relation to Taiwan, observers say.

Although Hu is expected to forcefully raise the Taiwan issue as Chinese leaders normally do during high-level bilateral exchanges, US officials expect that both sides will reiterate their well-known positions and move on to other issues on the crowded agenda.

Lessening the chances of substantive discussion is the fact that the two leaders will meet relatively briefly -- on Wednesday morning and then again later in the day -- and will have a long list of pressing issues to discuss.

North Korea and strained US-China trade issues are expected to dominate the agenda.

They will form the so-called working agenda, in which both sides expect to engage in a dialogue to narrow differences over the six-party talks on Korea, as well as other issues such as the US trade deficit with China and Washington's efforts to get Beijing to revalue the yuan.

Among the second tier of issues, which will be brought up but not discussed at length, Taiwan will head the list. But any discussions are expected to be perfunctory.

"I don't think any real work will be done" on the Taiwan issue, said former deputy assistant secretary of state Randall Schriver. "I'm told by the administration that [on the US side] it will be a reiteration of our policy and to expect no change on Taiwan. This will be relatively pro forma."

One of the reasons for this is that China is not as concerned about the direction of President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) policies than it was, say, at the end of 2003, when Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) got Bush to publicly criticize Chen and his plan for a referendum on cross-strait issues during the presidential election.

`MORE RELAXED'

China is "more relaxed about the situation in Taiwan. They feel they're in control," says Bonnie Glaser, a China foreign-policy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"They feel that US policy is not really in any way undermining their interests at the moment, and that time is on their side," she added.

While Beijing is still concerned by US arms sales to Taiwan and what it describes as Washington sending the "wrong signals" to Taipei, Glaser felt the situation had changed in Taiwan over the past year.

"They view that the internal constraints on Chen Shui-bian's making a move that would be worrisome to Beijing are stronger now. The election of Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) as Chinese Nationalist Party [KMT] chairman and the aftermath of the [visits by former KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜)] have contributed in their mind to an atmosphere in which the DPP [Democratic Progressive Party] increasingly looks like it is not managing cross-strait relations well, and they don't have a real strategy to deal with Beijing," Glaser said.

She said that what Hu wants to do during the meeting with Bush is "check the box."

Glaser added that Hu "wants President Bush to repeat the mantra" that Washington will adhere to the three joint communiques, emphasizing the spirit of the documents and not just the words, will oppose Taiwan independence, and wants "no unilateral change in the status quo."

Schriver said that the Bush administration now "is in a more comfortable place in its relationship with Taiwan and feels a little better about things," then it did when Wen visited, Schriver said on Thursday.

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