- The Washington Times - Friday, April 9, 2004

From combined dispatches

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwanese Foreign Minister Eugene Chien offered to step down yesterday over the resignation of Washington’s top diplomat for Taiwan affairs, seen as a good friend of the politically isolated island.

Therese Shaheen, the director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), quit Wednesday amid speculation she was too pro-Taiwan at a time when the United States has tried to maintain a delicate balance in its ties with Taipei and Beijing.

Critics said the Foreign Ministry had abused Mrs. Shaheen’s support in order to further domestic political goals, leading to her departure and the loss of an unusually vocal advocate for an island constantly struggling against China’s diplomatic stranglehold.

“There were indeed oversights and inadequate supervision in our department’s handling of … Shaheen’s resignation,” Mr. Chien told reporters, but did not elaborate. “I offered to resign because I absolutely will not shirk responsibility.”

Mr. Chien submitted his resignation to President Chen Shui-bian and Prime Minister Yu Shyi-kun.

China views the island as a renegade province that must return to the fold, by force if necessary. Beijing uses its political and economic clout to isolate Taipei internationally, and only 26 countries have diplomatic ties with the island.

The United States switched recognition to Beijing in 1979 but remains the island’s main arms supplier, selling it advanced weapons to counter a military buildup in China.

The AIT oversees U.S. interests in Taiwan in the absence of formal diplomatic ties. People familiar with Mrs. Shaheen’s departure said she had repeated clashes with the White House.

Bush administration officials told The Washington Times — which first reported on Mrs. Shaheen’s impending exit on Wednesday — that she was pressured out because she was a strong defender of Taiwan and clashed with pro-China AIT official Douglas Paal, the U.S. representative in Taipei.

Before the Taiwan presidential election last month, Mrs. Shaheen was perceived to be undercutting U.S. efforts to encourage Mr. Chen to moderate his pro-independence rhetoric so as not to precipitate a crisis with Beijing, they said.

And after Mr. Chen narrowly won the March 20 election, which is being challenged by his opponent, some U.S. officials believe Mrs. Shaheen had jumped the gun by issuing a congratulatory message to Mr. Chen before the White House was ready to do so.

Her message was swiftly announced by the Foreign Ministry, a move seen to lend credibility to Mr. Chen, whose razor-thin victory has sparked huge protests and is being challenged in court.

The State Department has declined comment on reports Beijing had pressured Washington for her removal, saying Mrs. Shaheen had resigned for personal reasons.

Mr. Chien is the third Cabinet minister who has offered to quit since the election, though the impact would be muted as the Cabinet will be reshuffled before the next administration begins on May 20.

“The U.S. and Taiwan have a very unique relationship, and the head of AIT and the head of the Taiwan office in the United States serve as white gloves for bilateral relations,” Philip Yang, a political analyst at National Taiwan University, told Reuters news agency.

“You shouldn’t use this as a tool for domestic political consumption, and I believe this is something that the U.S. has complained to Taiwan about.”

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