President Bush has made the United States commitment to maintaining peace between Taiwan and China “more convincing” with his promise to do “whatever it takes” to defend the island, a senior Taiwan official said yesterday.
Information Minister Su Tzen-ping, the highest Taiwanese official to visit Washington since Mr. Bush took office, also said Taiwan had noted “signals” it would enjoy a closer relationship with the Bush administration than with its predecessor.
However, he told reporters and editors at a luncheon interview at The Washington Times that Taiwan would have to go through a military appraisal and a political debate before it could make any decision if it was invited to participate in the missile-defense system announced by Mr. Bush this week.
“There has always been a U.S. commitment to peace in the Taiwan Strait,” Mr. Su said of the U.S. presidents recent television interview in which he said the United States would do “whatever it takes” to defend Taiwan from attack from the mainland.
“Mr. Bush has made this commitment more convincing. We welcome that,” he said. “With a clearer [U.S.] position, it will better preserve the peace in the [Taiwan] Strait.”
Mr. Su said he did not expect any “dramatic change” in Taiwans relations with the United States under Mr. Bush, noting there are “fundamental structures” in the relationship that “I dont think can be changed overnight.”
But, he said, “We see some signals,” including the approval of a major arms sale to Taiwan and the treatment of his governments request that President Chen Shui-bian be permitted to stop over in the United States on his way to and from a tour of Latin America.
“The details have not been completed, but we anticipate it will be easier than in the past.”
During a 15-hour stopover in Los Angeles in August, the State Department blocked reporters from meeting Mr. Chen and pressured Mr. Chen to back out of a reception being hosted in his honor by more than a dozen members of Congress.
During his upcoming trip, Mr. Chen has reportedly asked to transit through Houston and New York.
Beijing, which considers Taiwan a renegade province, strongly objects to such visits. The last visit to the United States by a Taiwanese president, Lee Teng-hui in 1995, set U.S.-Chinese relations on a downward spiral that lasted for nearly a year.
Mr. Bush last month approved the largest arms sale to Taiwan in a decade, authorizing the sale of several weapons that the Clinton administration had refused to sell for fear of angering the Beijing government.
Mr. Su said his government was “satisfied” with the package, “which will contribute to peace” by deterring China from any attack.
Mr. Sus visit comes at a time of high tension between the United States and China, aggravated by Beijings detention of a 24-member U.S. air crew for 11 days after their surveillance aircraft collided in midair with a Chinese interceptor.
However, the official said Taiwan had no interest in seeing Sino-U.S. relations deteriorate.
“What we want is a win-win situation,” he said. “We do not welcome conflict. We want good relations between the United States and China, between Taiwan and China, and between Taiwan and the United States.”
He said Taiwan favored continued trade relations with China, both for Taiwan and the United States, saying his government was in favor of anything that engaged the mainland with the international community.
“Things are changing” in China, he said. “Economic development will be followed by political change, but we are not quite sure how quickly.
“I think political liberalization in China is inevitable.”
Mr. Su was cautious about what kind of role Taiwan, which is confronted by 300 ballistic missiles across the Taiwan Strait, might play in a missile-defense system such as that proposed by Mr. Bush this week.
“If the United States invites Taiwan to join this system, we will have to assess whether it is militarily meaningful to join,” he said.
If the decision is yes, he added, “it will be a political question.”
“Since we are a democracy, there will be discussions in parliament. We have to go through these discussions and form a consensus.”