US officials call for caution in dealing with islands dispute

By William Lowther  /  Staff reporter in WASHINGTON

Fri, Dec 07, 2012 - Page 3

Assistant US Secretary of State Kurt Campbell has urged Taiwan to tread very carefully in dealing with the current dispute over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台).

“We have had unofficial interactions with Taiwanese authorities,” he told a conference in Washington this week.

Campbell said that the US position had been “underscored” clearly.

“We expect Taiwan, along with other countries in the Asian Pacific region, to take steps not to provoke misunderstandings or tensions,” he said.

In a series of recent unofficial contacts with Taipei, other US officials have also appealed for caution.

According to sources who spoke on the strict condition of anonymity, one meeting with Taiwanese officials was “heated.”

While the US Department of State had nothing to say on the subject on Wednesday, Campbell touched on the issue at a meeting on US-China relations at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington on Tuesday.

He was asked what the US thought about the “East China Sea peace initiative” — calling for bilateral and trilateral talks — proposed by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).

“First of all, at a larger level, obviously one of the most important things that the United States seeks to convey is the determination to maintain peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” Campbell said.

“We’ve also strongly supported the positive dialogue that has taken place over the last several years between the mainland and Taiwan,” he said. “We seek that to continue.”

Campbell said Washington wanted to support its unofficial ties with Taiwan, particularly in the area of economic engagements.

“We have made very clear to all parties our position on these territorial matters,” he said. “I articulated that position earlier — the maintenance of peace and stability, the desire to support freedom of navigation, and also the desire to see difficulties and disputes settled peacefully.”

Asked about China becoming “much more assertive” over the islands, Campbell said the US wanted cooler heads to prevail.

“It is also the case that remarkable prosperity has taken place in Asia, even with these problems lurking sometimes just beneath the surface,” he said. “And what we are trying to do is to remind all leaders how important it is to sustain good relations at a time in which the world is counting on Asia, and particularly Northeast Asia, to fulfill its role with respect to the global economy.”

The US stood, he said, for issues such as freedom of navigation, the diplomatic resolution of problems and that parties do not resort to coercion or force.

“We have strongly supported efforts at diplomacy and dialogue between Tokyo and Beijing,” he said. “These are among the most difficult issues on the global scene and we believe that we have played an appropriate role, oft times behind the scenes, to encourage calm, and the maintenance of peace and stability.”

Senior Taiwanese officials now in Washington are believed to have spoken with US diplomats about Taiwan’s claims and policies concerning the islands.