- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 22, 2000

A senior Chinese diplomat said yesterday the Clinton administration should not allow Taiwan's newly elected leader Chen Shui-bian to visit the United States.

Mr. Chen should meet Chinese leaders only if he agrees to Beijing's terms, he said.

Liu Xiaoming, the deputy chief of the Chinese Embassy in Washington, warned that China will not wait "indefinitely" to discuss peaceful reunification while forces for independence on the island grow stronger.

"Our current intention is for peaceful reunification," Mr. Liu told reporters and editors at a luncheon yesterday at The Washington Times. "But we cannot follow the policy of peaceful reunification indefinitely."

He gave no specific timetable for when China might abandon diplomacy and apply force to reunify the mainland and the island separated from the mainland in 1949 at the end of China's civil war.

Mr. Liu, asked about reports that Mr. Chen was considering a visit to the United States, said China's position "is clear."

"The United States has to abide by agreements and only recognize the [People's Republic of China]… . We oppose any official relations."

An aide to Mr. Chen said in Taipei this week that the president-elect might try to avoid angering China by coming to the United States before he is sworn in. A visit to the United States by outgoing President Lee Teng-hui in 1995 sent U.S.-Chinese relations into a tailspin for many months.

But even a preinaugural visit would violate U.S. commitments not to let Taiwanese leaders come to the United States, Mr. Liu said.

Mr. Liu said the communist government in Beijing sees Saturday's ballot in Taiwan as a "local election" and not a presidential poll. Mr. Chen should not be called president or even president-elect, the deputy chief of mission said.

"As a new leader, we will watch his actions and listen to his words," Mr. Liu said of Mr. Chen, who ended more than 50 years of Nationalist Party rule in Taiwan by winning office with 39 percent of the vote in a three-way race.

In Taiwan yesterday, Mr. Chen's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) gave signs of backing away from its long-established goal of independence for Taiwan, saying it would open debate on a key provision in the party platform.

A DPP legislator, Chen Zau-nan, said the party would consider replacing its doctrine of seeking independence with a statement describing Taiwan as a "sovereign independent country."

The wording change might fall well short of China's demand to abandon all "independence" claims, but some analysts say it could create an opportunity for compromise between Beijing and Taipei.

Mr. Liu also sees room for compromise on Mr. Chen's proposal for direct talks with Chinese leaders to be held "between equals" in Beijing, Taiwan or a third country.

"If he publicly states the position that Taiwan independence is no longer a goal, a principle, and endorses the one-China principle, I think he will lay the groundwork for both sides to talk," Mr. Liu said.

Mr. Liu, who was educated in the United States, said China is "open-minded" and prepared to exchange views with Mr. Chen.

He emphasized his view that China's demand for Taiwan to acknowledge it is part of China is "not negotiable… . This is the basis for negotiation."

He said Taiwan's demand that talks take place between equals could be resolved by holding them on the basis of negotiations between party leaders rather than between the heads of sovereign countries.

On a conciliatory note, U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke said after talks with Chinese leaders in Beijing yesterday that he had found the Chinese attitude toward Mr. Chen's election to be "very constructive."

Lee Hamilton, a former U.S. representative from Indiana, is expected in Taipei today for talks with Mr. Chen and outgoing President Lee Teng-hui.

Mr. Liu rejected suggestions that the Clinton administration, which has received campaign contributions from official Chinese sources, is more conciliatory toward China than previous administrations. He said there is "no evidence" that China made illegal campaign contributions in 1996 to influence White House policies in favor of Beijing.

Mr. Liu said he has "very good communications with the White House" and meets often with U.S. officials there. But ties with the administration suffered after the NATO bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, last year.

"We do not always see eye to eye," he said. "But we do not try to impose our differences."

On other issues, Mr. Liu said:

• China plans to seek membership in the World Trade Organization regardless of the outcome of an upcoming vote in Congress on legislation creating permanent normal trade relations with Beijing.

• Beijing opposes plans by the Clinton administration to sell advanced weapons to Taiwan, including four destroyers equipped with the Aegis battle management systems that can be upgraded for regional missile defenses.

• The Clinton administration's sponsorship of a U.N. resolution attacking China's human rights abuses will not solve the rights problem in China.

• Recent threats by China's government and military against Taiwan were aimed at "separatist" forces in Taiwan, which are growing stronger.

• Critics who promote the "China threat" want to "contain" China and use Taiwan as an "unsinkable aircraft carrier" against the mainland.

On trade relations, Mr. Liu said increased commerce will help reform China's economy but will not undermine its communist system, which has been described by Beijing leaders as a combination of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Tse-tung theory.

"It is the Communist Party that made China independent," he said. "The Communist Party saved China."

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