Former US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage came to President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) defense on Friday over the decision to drop variations of "China" from the names of state-run firms and constitutional reform, saying the US State Department's criticism of the moves were an over-reaction by the Bush administration.
Regarding the name-change decision, which was criticized by the State Department as a move that altered the "status quo" in the Taiwan Strait, Armitage said the decision "is not one that bothers me one way or the other."
On plans for constitutional reform, he said the issue was one for Taiwan's democracy to decide.
"We have to let the democratic process work its way out in a transparent way," he said.
Armitage was speaking to reporters in Washington after releasing a report -- of which he was a principal author -- on the future of US-Japan relations.
In the report he called for closer US-Japan ties, and said that Japan should seek to better understand US commitments to Taiwan's defense and the peaceful resolution of cross-strait tensions.
Armitage said that the State Department's recent negative reaction to Chen's initiatives represents Washington's sensitivity to the need for Chinese cooperation on a number of crucial issues it faces.
"We have all held the view that unilateral changes ought to be avoided," he said.
"So what Taiwan needs to take into consideration, at a time when the United States is depending so heavily on China on the questions of North Korea, is that to be seen unilaterally changing the status quo might give some headaches to the people in the State Department," he said, adding that such a response was "very understandable."
Regarding the name changes in particular, Armitage said: "I think [the State Department wants] to balance their equities with the People's Republic of China, with which we have to work closely."
Noting in particular the six-party talks on North Korea, Armitage said: "there are only so many problems that the United States can handle at one time."
In the report's section on Taiwan, the authors place an emphasis on the February 2005 statement by Tokyo and Washington, in the so-called "Two-plus-two talks" between the State Department, Pentagon and Japan's foreign and defense ministries, in which Japan declared that the peaceful solution of cross-strait relations is a common strategic objective with the US.
Randall Schriver, a former deputy assistant secretary of state responsible for Taiwan and China and a contributor to the report, said that the authors believe the Two-plus-two statement "could very well be the guiding principle for 2020, if the differences between the two sides [of the Taiwan Strait] remain unresolved."
"We think that embodied in that statement were certain obligations of the United States, and certain obligations of Japan: Our obligation under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan weapons for self-defense, and to have the capacity to resist force. And Japan should understand those obligations and be supportive of the United States [position] with respect to those obligations," he said.
While the report, and much of Washington's recent focus, has been on Chen's actions and prospects for a declaration of independence, the report and Schriver's comments also aimed at the danger of pan-blue-camp moves toward China.
"If [Taiwan] goes in the other direction [toward unification], if the KMT [Chinese Nationalist Party] and others try to move more rapidly toward the PRC, that would be cause for a re-evaluation [of US policy toward Taiwan]," Schriver said.
Overall, the report said, "sustained democracy" is Taiwan's best chance of freedom, and that Washington and Tokyo share an interest in the "peaceful resolution of [cross-strait] issues through dialogue."
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