- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Taiwan has been assured that President Bush will resist any demands for new pressure on the island when he meets with Chinese President Hu Jintao at the White House tomorrow, the Republic of China’s top diplomat in Washington said yesterday.

“I have met with a number of administration officials, and the word I keep getting is that there will be no surprises,” David Tawei Lee told editors and reporters at The Washington Times.

“I am sure the Chinese side will very much want to bring up the issue of Taiwan’s status, but we have been told by our U.S. friends that Taiwan’s interests will not be hurt.”

Mr. Hu’s four-day U.S. visit, which began yesterday with a dinner with major U.S. business executives at the Seattle-area mansion of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, is being closely watched in Taipei, which has set up a round-the-clock task force to monitor the visit.

Mr. Hu addressed economic ties to a Seattle audience including the heads of Starbucks Corp. and Boeing, and will tour a Boeing plant before flying to Washington today. He will also talk about Chinese social and historical trends on a Friday visit to Yale University.

The mainland has vowed to use force if necessary to prevent Taiwan from gaining independence, and deeply distrusts what it sees as moves in that direction by Taiwanese leader Chen Shui-bian. The United States has pledged to defend Taiwan and warned both sides against changing the uneasy status quo.

In briefings for reporters this week, U.S. officials made clear that Mr. Bush hopes to spend as little time as possible discussing Taiwan with Mr. Hu.

“The president will reiterate our policy,” a senior administration official said Monday. “What I can tell you is that we have no intention of changing our one-China policy as we define it. It’s set. It hasn’t changed. It won’t change.”

Mr. Lee said Taiwan officials recall vividly a December 2003 Oval Office meeting with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, where Mr. Bush pointedly criticized the Chen government for floating a proposal for a referendum that some said could lead to independence.

Joseph Wu, chairman of the policy-making Mainland Affairs Council in Taipei, said this week officials are still “very worried,” despite U.S. assurances about the upcoming Hu-Bush talks.

“If the United States … makes comments that hurt a democratic country or criticize its elected leader, it will lead the international community to question the consistency of its policy,” Mr. Wu said.

A Chinese trade delegation now touring the United States has announced contracts to buy U.S. goods and services totaling some $16.2 billion. Mr. Lee, officially the head of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office, said Beijing’s exploding economic clout was a concern.

“I am worried that the multinationals will be siding with China because of their business interests,” he said. He added that a spate of new caucuses on Capitol Hill extolling Chinese trade are directly tied to major Chinese investments in lawmakers’ home districts.

Just before leaving Beijing, Mr. Hu met with leaders of Taiwan’s anti-independence opposition parties, offering trade and travel concessions and saying talk of independence in Taipei was “the biggest threat harming peaceful and stable development of ties across the [Taiwan] Strait.”

Mr. Lee noted that some of the concessions — including lowering barriers to Taiwan agriculture — targeted rural voters who are a key constituency of Mr. Chen’s party. “The mainland is getting much more sophisticated at playing this kind of game,” he said.

The Taiwan diplomat said bilateral ties with Washington have steadied following a sharp exchange earlier this year over Mr. Chen’s decision to shut down a government bureau that oversaw reunification policy. He acknowledged Washington was blindsided by the announcement and said both sides are now careful to avoid future “surprises.”

But he said a proposal for a free-trade accord, a top economic priority in Taipei, has received only a “lukewarm” welcome so far in Washington.

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