John Negroponte, US President George W. Bush's nominee for deputy secretary of state, on Tuesday cautioned that President Chen Shui-bian's (
Negroponte was speaking in response to a question during his confirmation hearing before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
However, State Department officials were quick to point out that Negroponte's comments were "nothing new" and "not inconsistent" with the department's recent reactions to Chen's comments on constitutional reform.
"Basically, he was saying that he wanted to see what was proposed" by Chen in the reform package before judging it, a department official told the Taipei Times.
The official was referring to a policy statement the department issued early last month in the wake of Chen's New Year's message on constitutional reform, saying Negroponte was essentially reiterating that policy.
Negroponte's remarks were prompted by a question by Senator Lisa Murkowski, the ranking Republican on the committee's subcommittee that deals with East Asian affairs, and a big supporter of Taiwan. Murkowski was recently named an honorary co-chairman of the US-Taiwan Business Council.
In response to Murkowski's question on the department's view on Chen's weekend pronouncement on constitutional reform, Negroponte reiterated the US' "one China" policy and the three joint communiques, which he called the "foundation documents" of US policy toward Taiwan. He did not mention the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979.
"And we believe it would be unwise to do anything at cross purposes with those three [documents]," he said.
"So do you think a new constitution would be at cross pur-poses?" Murkowski asked.
"I would want to study the implications, but it certainly strikes me [that] that would be a distinct possibility," he said.
In the statement cited by the department official, the department recalled Chen's pledges in his 2000 and 2004 inaugural addresses in which he said he would not declare independence, change Taiwan's official name, include sovereignty themes in any new constitution, or push for a referendum on the question of independence or unification with China.
"President Chen's fulfilment of his commitments will be a test of leadership, dependability and statesmanship, as well as his ability to protect Taiwan's interests, his relationship with others and to maintain peace and stability in the Strait," the statement said.
Negroponte, the former US intelligence chief, was nominated by Bush to replace Robert Zoellick, who left the department last year. Should he be confirmed by the Senate, his portfolio will include Taiwan, China and East Asia.
Before becoming the director of National Intelligence in 2005, Negroponte served in the US Foreign Service. He started his diplomatic career in Asia, serving in different posts, including the US embassy in Vietnam (he speaks Vietnamese) and as US ambassador to the Philippines.
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