A senior US official has refused to say whether President Chen Shui-bian (
Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Christopher Hill, when asked by reporters after an appearance before a congressional committee hearing, would not say whether Taiwan had responded to a State Department demand last Thursday for assurances that Chen's actions were not intended to change the cross-strait "status quo."
The department's demands were contained in a hastily issued statement in which it both expressed its conviction that Chen did not intend to change the status quo, and also asked him once again to assure Washington that that was his real intent.
The latter request followed what turned out to be erroneous reports that DPP officials said Chen had abolished the council and guidelines, rather than just mothballing them.
State Department spokesmen have mentioned Chen's actions and the cross-strait dialogue issue several times in the same breath over the past two weeks, but this was the clearest indication yet that the Washington feels that direct dialogue is the only answer to the actions by both sides that have rattled cross-strait relations in recent years.
"I don't want to characterize our view on assurances [from Chen]," Hill told reporters.
"What I want to emphasize is that we believe this is an issue that needs to be resolved through dialogue, and that both sides need to show restraint," he said.
In a reference to the so-called "Anti-Secession" Law that Beijing's National People's Congress approved last March, Hill said that "there is no role for any mention of non-peaceful means," the phrase the law used as a threat to invade Taiwan if it moves toward formal independence.
Hill called on both sides to "approach this not unilaterally but in a mutual effort at dialogue," adding "There is no room here for unilateral announcements or any threats of the use of force of any kind."
In his written testimony before the subcommittee, Hill called on Beijing to "engage in meaningful dialogue with Taiwan's democratically elected leaders in the near future."
It was not clear what he meant by the "near future," or whether he has any information that Beijing is willing to engage in talks any time soon.
Nor was there any indication that the administration of US President George W. Bush has been making any special effort to press Beijing into opening talks with Chen.
Hill told a reporter that he had "no new information" about whether China was willing to open talks with Chen's government, at least on the basis demanded by Taiwan and Washington, that is, without any conditions that they be based on the so-called "one China" principle.
Meanwhile, Taiwan's de-facto ambassador to the US, David Lee (
He said he was "very surprised" by the State Department's statement last Thursday calling on Chen to explain his actions and assure Washington he does not intend to change the status quo.
While saying that differences remain between Washington and Taipei on the issue, Lee added that "in the past few days we have been trying to bridge the differences. I'm confident that we will sort out the issue in the near future," certainly well before Chinese President Hu Jintao (