- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Ignoring U.S. warnings, Taiwanese leader Chen Shui-bian yesterday terminated a government council charged with overseeing an eventual reunification with China, provoking furious criticism from Beijing.

The move to scrap the largely symbolic National Unification Council and kill its funding was strongly supported by Mr. Chen’s pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, but the Taiwanese president denied the move was a prelude to a break with the mainland.

“Taiwan has no intention of changing the status quo and firmly opposes any nonpeaceful means that will cause the status quo to change,” he told a meeting of his top security advisers in Taipei yesterday.

But, he added, the council will “cease to function” and the 15-year-old guidelines it applied to an eventual reunification will “cease to apply.”

The Bush administration acknowledged last month it was unpleasantly surprised when Mr. Chen first floated the idea. The United States, which has pledged to defend Taiwan in case of a Chinese attack, has urged both sides to refrain from unilateral moves to change the current standoff.

U.S. officials say they thought Mr. Chen had personally pledged to preserve the reunification committee upon taking office in 2000 and again upon his re-election in 2004.

Taiwanese press outlets reported that several U.S. envoys had been privately dispatched to Taipei to urge restraint on Mr. Chen.

The White House and State Department reacted cautiously yesterday, saying they had assurances from Mr. Chen that he would still honor past pledges to avoid provocative moves toward independence.

The unification office “has not been abolished. It’s been frozen,” State Department spokesman Adam Ereli told reporters, saying Mr. Chen in his own statements had insisted he was not trying to change the status quo.

But China’s press carried sharp denunciations of Mr. Chen, who has had rocky relations with the mainland since his election.

The New Beijing newspaper called the Taiwanese leader a “troublemaker.”

“His efforts to resolve the crisis of his own political career by jeopardizing the interests of the general public will meet with great difficulties and end with failure,” the paper warned.

The move was also harshly criticized by Taiwan’s opposition Kuomintang party and by many Taiwanese business leaders who favor closer ties to Beijing.

But the council has only a nominal budget and has never met since Mr. Chen took office.

Wu Li-pei, a top adviser to the president, said in an interview with The Washington Times earlier this month that the existence of the council “prejudged” the question of Taiwan’s ultimate status, which Mr. Chen said should be decided by Taiwan’s people.

With its recent military buildup targeting the island, “it is Beijing who is trying to change the status quo, not us,” Mr. Wu said.

This article was based in part on wire service reports.

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