US urges Taiwan to clarify China stance

Posted in China | 06-Mar-06 | Author: Kathrin Hille

Adam Ereli, deputy spokesman of the State Department.

The US has called on Taiwan to state clearly that it has not abolished a token body working towards unification with mainland China, following President Chen Shui-bian’s announcement this week that the body had "ceased to function".

"We expect the Taiwan authorities publicly to correct the record and unambiguously affirm that the February 27 announcement did not abolish the National Unification Council, did not change the status quo, and that the assurances remain in effect," Adam Ereli, deputy spokesman of the State Department, said in a statement.

Washington’s move marks an abrupt about-turn in its handling of the issue, signalling that Mr Chen may have gone too far in US eyes and started to affect US ties with China adversely.

The NUC and its guidelines notionally committed the island to eventual unification with China, but had had no more than a token existence for years. By officially terminating it, Mr Chen aimed to regain sagging domestic political support and stop China from expanding its influence over self-ruled Taiwan.

His move angered China and caused international concern because a promise not to abolish the council had been part of five assurances not to move towards formal independence Mr Chen made when he took office in 2000.

Mr Chen had worded his decision ambiguously, aiming to avoid criticism from the US. Instead of announcing the abolition of the council, he said it "ceased to function" and the guidelines "ceased to apply".

So far, the US had publicly interpreted this as a mere "freezing" of the body, enabling it to claim Mr Chen had not broken his promises. However, this interpretation was not in line with the Chinese-language version of Mr Chen’s announcement.

On Friday Mr Ereli said: "Our understanding from the authorities in Taiwan was that the action Taiwan took on February 27 was deliberately designed not to change the status quo, as Chen Shui-bian made clear in his seven-point statement".

Taipei failed to provide the unambiguous statement demanded by Washington.

Su Tseng-tsang, premier, and James Huang, foreign minister, refused to answer questions from lawmakers about the NUC.

Mr Huang repeated that the council had "ceased to operate" and its policy guidelines "ceased to apply" and said these terms were in no way equivalent to an abolition of the body.