China welcomes U.S. stance

Posted in China , United States , Asia | 15-Dec-03 | Author: Brian Knowlton| Source: International Herald Tribune

Bush warns Taiwan to keep status quo

WASHINGTON - President George W. Bush, in comments welcomed Tuesday by the visiting Chinese prime minister, Wen Jiabao, said that the United States strongly opposed a move in Taiwan to stage a referendum favored by those who support independence from the mainland.

"We oppose any unilateral decision by either China or Taiwan to change the status quo," Bush said, "and the comments and actions made by the leader of Taiwan indicate that he may be willing to make decisions unilaterally, to change the status quo, which we oppose."

By adopting so tough a tone toward a democratically governed American ally, the White House made a major shift in U.S. attitude, if not policy, toward Taiwan. The warning seemed intended partly to thank Wen for China's crucial cooperation in defusing the North Korea nuclear crisis, though Bush also said that Pyongyang's latest offer of a nuclear weapons freeze did not go far enough. President Chen Shui-bian of Taiwan had enraged China with plans for a referendum in March that would call for China to withdraw scores of ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan. The vote is seen in China as signaling a move toward independence, though Chen has denied this.

Wen, who was also here to discuss trade tensions and several areas of cooperation, said the Chinese "very much appreciate" Bush's stance on Taiwan. White House aides had signaled the tougher tone toward Taiwan on Monday, saying that Taipei should avoid any action that an objective outsider might interpret as a move toward independence. That was coupled with a warning to China not to contemplate any forcible or coercive measures against the island, which Beijing considers part of China.

Bush said that the United States continued to build on the "one China" policy that considers Taiwan part of China but rejects political reunification through any but peaceful means.

Wen, too, strongly endorsed that approach, while warning Taiwan against any thought of separatism.

"Our fundamental policy on the settlement of the question of Taiwan is peaceful reunification and one country, two systems," Wen said. "We would do our utmost, with utmost sincerity, to bring about national unity and peaceful reunification through peaceful means." He added, however, that "the attempts of Taiwan authorities, headed by Chen Shui-bian, are only using democracy as an excuse and attempt to resort to a defensive referendum to break Taiwan away from China."

Such moves, Wen said through an interpreter, "are what the Chinese side can absolutely not accept and tolerate." He then added, "So long as there is a glimmer of hope, we will not give up our efforts for peaceful unification." White House aides said that a U.S. envoy, James Moriarty, delivered a warning to Chen last month, though Taiwanese officials said Monday that they had not been notified of any change.

In Taipei, Foreign Minister Eugene Chien told state radio that Taiwan was awaiting a fuller explanation of the U.S. position. He added, however: "The United States doesn't want our referendum to affect the stability in the Taiwan Strait. We fully understand this." In a formal welcoming ceremony earlier, Bush referred only in passing to Taiwan. Instead, he emphasized the trade and diplomatic ties that have emerged ever more prominently in the past two years to bind China and the United States, as well as their cooperation in the fight against terrorism. He made no mention of the fact that China opposed the Iraq war.

"We are working together in the war on terror," Bush said. "We are partners in diplomacy" and "full members of a world trading system." Bush and Wen also discussed an issue that, before Monday, had received far more attention here than Taiwan: the connection between China's huge pool of low-cost labor, its enormous trade surplus with the United States, and the millions of American manufacturing jobs that have been lost in recent years.