US spokesperson sidesteps comment on Ma-Xi meeting

By William Lowther  /  Staff reporter in WASHINGTON

Fri, Nov 01, 2013 - Page 3

The US carefully avoided making any meaningful comment on Wednesday when asked about the possibility of a meeting between President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平).

There was widespread media speculation last month that the two men may meet next year.

However, asked directly if the US would support and facilitate such a meeting, US Department of State deputy spokesperson Marie Harf tap-danced her way around it.

“I don’t know any specifics about a possible meeting,” Harf said.

She was addressing an on-the-record briefing for foreign press on the latest developments in US foreign policy.

“Broadly, we welcome steps that both sides of the Taiwan Strait have taken in reducing tensions and improving relations,” she said.

“We hope these efforts will continue,” Harf said.

She said that the US believed — and had always believed — that maintaining cross-strait stability was essential for promoting peace in the Asia-Pacific region.

“Whether, or when, or how to engage in political talks is really a matter for appropriate authorities on both sides of the Taiwan Strait,” Harf said.

“We support a peaceful resolution to differences — in a manner that is acceptable to people on both sides of the Strait — and we hope that efforts to reduce tensions will continue,” she said.

Before joining the administration of US President Barack Obama, Harf was media spokesperson for the CIA.

She began her career in the CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence, where she was an analyst on Middle East leadership issues.

Earlier this month, about 120 academics and foreign policy experts from both sides of the Strait met in Shanghai to discuss Taiwan-China relations.

They concluded that Ma and Xi should meet and decided to set up a group to study how that could be arranged and what the two leaders should talk about.

Earlier this week, U.S. News & World Report published an editorial by American Foreign Policy Council researcher Anthony Erlandson titled Taiwan Should be Wary of Growing too Close to China.

Erlandson said that Taiwan should be asking itself: “How close is too close?”

He noted that on Oct. 6, on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Bali, Xi spoke with former vice president Vincent Siew (蕭萬長).

“Xi used the occasion to make his most straightforward comments to date about improving cross-strait relations, urging the continued development and improvement of bilateral ties and advocating the notion that both sides are of one family,” Erlandson wrote.

“Prudence dictates that Taiwan maintain a certain degree of distance,” he wrote.

He added that Ma’s approval ratings had recently plummeted, in part because of his pro-China engagement policies.

There is currently an intense debate in Taiwan, over the proper balance between closer ties with China and the “dangers that such engagement could pose to the island nation’s democracy,” Erlandson wrote.