- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 9, 2003

The Bush administration, for the first time, explicitly warned Taiwan against pursuing independence, while maintaining its caution to the communist government on the mainland not to threaten war against the island.

The sharpening of the administration’s “one-China” policy, which had remained purposefully vague, came on the eve of Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s visit to the White House today.

A senior Bush administration official, who spoke to reporters yesterday on the condition of anonymity, said Taiwan’s “steps toward independence” and China’s military buildup close to the island “makes us uncomfortable.”

“The salami is being sliced at both ends here,” the official said. “At one end, you have China building up their military capabilities. On the other, you have a Taiwan that seems to be pushing the envelope pretty hard toward independence.”

That situation “forced us to state more clearly where we are on both of those issues,” the official said. “We said it in the past, but we are saying more frequently.”

Chen Shui-bian, president of the Republic of China (Taiwan), has called for a March 20 referendum that would demand that China stop threatening the island and remove hundreds of missiles pointed at the island.

“We don’t welcome the referendum,” the Bush official said, adding that the administration is concerned that its passage might lead to a declaration of independence.

China, which considers Taiwan a breakaway province, has threatened war against the island if it attempts to sever ties with the mainland. The United States is bound by the Taiwan Relations Act to defend the island.

The ambiguous “one China” policy, the Bush official said, was intended to “bring us the most stability.”

“If the Chinese didn’t know what we would do, that would somehow keep them in better check,” the official said. “And if the Taiwanese were not told things, they would not move off in an unhealthy direction.

“What you are seeing here is a dropping of the ambiguity to both sides,” he said. “We can’t imply to the Taiwan side that we are sort of agnostic toward a move toward independence. But at the same time, we have to make it clear to the Chinese that this is not a green light for [them] to contemplate the use of force for coercion against Taiwan.”

Taiwan assured Washington that the March 20 vote would not deal with the unification issue with China.

“The United States doesn’t want our referendum to affect the stability in the Taiwan Strait. We fully understand this,” Foreign Minister Eugene Chien said today on Taiwan’s state radio.

Although the rhetoric to express U.S.-China policy might have been clarified, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said, the administration’s China policy “remains unchanged” in purpose.

President Bush will talk with Mr. Wen about the trade imbalance with China, human rights and the conflict with Taiwan, Mr. McClellan said. Chinese communist officials see a U.S. warning against Taiwanese independence as one of Mr. Wen’s major goals.

“We have consistently raised our concerns about a number of areas in which China can do more to live up to its international obligations,” Mr. McClellan said. “There has been some progress made, and there is more to do.”

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