- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 8, 2002

Public anger continued to thunder from Beijing yesterday, but Chinese officials took obvious pleasure at Taiwanese leader Chen Shui-bian's embarrassment after he asserted the island's right to hold a referendum on independence.

Mr. Chen, president of the Republic of China (Taiwan), set off a firestorm on Saturday by calling an independence referendum a "basic human right" and by saying that Taiwan and China were different countries.

As Mr. Chen backpedaled yesterday, China continued to roar.

"Chen's remarks fully exposed his obstinate clinging to the fiction of Taiwan's independence," Xie Feng, press counselor at the Chinese Embassy, said.

"We are glad that the international community has joined the Chinese people, including our compatriots in Taiwan, in reaffirming the principle of one China," Mr. Xie said.

"We hope the United States will fully abide by the three joint U.S.-China communiques issued under former Presidents Nixon, Carter and Reagan," he added.

In the first of the three communiques, the United States in 1972 agreed that there is one China with Taiwan a part of it.

At that time, Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist Party ruled Taiwan and claimed to be the legitimate government of all of mainland China, then ruled by Mao Tse-tung's Communist Party.

In the second communique in 1979 the United States switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing.

In the third communique, in 1982, the United States agreed to limit and eventually eliminate arms sales to Taiwan.

Such arms sales, designed to enable Taiwan to defend itself against possible attack by Beijing, are required under a 1979 law known as the Taiwan Relations Act.

As president since 2001, Mr. Chen has tried to steer between China's demand that Taiwan reunify with the mainland and his ruling Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) principle of seeking independence.

On Saturday, addressing a group of DPP hard-liners on the independence issue, Mr. Chen told them he would support passage of a law to hold a referendum to choose between unification and independence if Taiwan were threatened.

News media in Taiwan speculated that Mr. Chen lost patience with Beijing after seeking to improve relations to no avail.

There is also the theory in Taiwan that Mr. Chen was seeking to score political points ahead of key mayoral elections on the island.

If that is the case, the effort may have backfired.

James Soong, of the People First Party, whose bolt from the Nationalists clinched the DPP's victory in the 2000 presidential election, charged that Mr. Chen's remarks "made our nation face grave disaster and turbulence."

Lien Chan, who succeeded former President Lee Teng-hui as head of the Nationalists, accused Mr. Chen of "playing children's games."

The U.S. State Department quickly affirmed that the United States adheres to the one-China principle and wants the issue resolved by peaceful means.

Faced with this torrent of negativity, Mr. Chen moved to limit the damage by dispatching Tsai Ing-wen, who heads Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, to Washington for talks with U.S. officials.

Before departing, she told reporters that there would be no change in policy.

The Chinese Embassy's Mr. Xie said that the Taiwanese press had noted that Mr. Chen's name, "Bian," means "change" with a slightly altered pronunciation.

"Mr. Chen is a politician who is always changing his position to suit the occasion," Mr. Xie said.

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