The US told China on Tuesday that it is committed to insisting Taiwan refrain from unilaterally changing the cross-strait "status quo."
The remarks were made in the first high-level face-to-face discussions about Taiwan between the two countries since President Chen Shui-bian's (
Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Yang Jiechi (楊潔箎) held meetings with US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick and Assistant Secretary Christopher Hill in Washington on Tuesday to prepare for a planned summit visit to Washington in late April by Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤).
In the sessions with Yang, "we reiterated the view that Taiwan needs to refrain from taking actions which can be seen as unilateral efforts to change the status quo," State Department spokesman Adam Ereli told reporters as the talks were progressing.
The US also told the Chinese that Taiwan "need[s] to move to address the issues they have with respect to China through dialogue, and that's our consistent message in our dealings with the Taiwanese," Ereli said.
That message seemed subtly different to earlier US comments on cross-strait dialogue, in which the US has focused on the need for China to deal with Chen and his government, rather than going through indirect talks with the opposition pan-blue parties.
The meetings came in the wake of reports that Dennis Wilder, the chief Chinese affairs official of the National Security Council, went to Taiwan last week to warn Chen not to abolish the NUC. Ereli and other department officials refused to confirm Wilder's trip.
One department official said only that: "We meet from time to time with Taiwan representatives, but we don't go into details about such meetings."
Ereli refused to discuss the Wilder trip.
"I'm not aware of the specific visit that you mentioned," he said in response to a reporter's question.
In the meetings on Tuesday, the two sides discussed the gamut of US-China issues, a State Department official said.
"As is usually the case when we talk to the Chinese, the Chinese raise Taiwan," the official said. "We don't have any new positions [on Taiwan], so we restate our position."
Ereli refused to speculate on how the US will react if Chen scraps the unification council and guidelines.
"I think we will be guided by our policy, which is based on the Taiwan Relations Act" and the three joint US-China communiques, he said.
Meanwhile, the Bush administration earlier this month launched a major review of its China policy amid feelings by key officials that the stance toward China should be hardened, according to a leading US Taiwan expert.
John Tkacik, a senior fellow of the Washington-based think tank the Heritage Foundation, wrote in an article in the conservative journal Weekly Standard that the first meeting held among mid-level officials on Feb. 3 was "hastily arranged" after Chen's remarks about the NUC.
The "question of the day" at the meeting was: "How does the Taiwan president's stance affect the Taiwan Strait `status quo' in the run-up to the Hu visit?"
The answer was, "Not much," administration officials concluded, according to Tkacik.
Wilder "launched the discussion with a recitation of China's unhelpful behavior in the Taiwan Strait over the past year, and urged a policy of `balance,'" Tkacik said.
While "Taiwan's infant democracy has given fits to the Bush administration ... China's behavior has been egregious," the administration concluded, according to Tkacik.
After a tough patch in US-Taiwan relations, the administration has reached a "new consensus" that on the China-Taiwan issue, "Washington should rebalance its policies back in Taiwan's direction," Tkacik said.
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