Wednesday, April 7, 2004

The State Department is planning to replace the head of the unofficial U.S. government office in charge of Taiwan after receiving complaints from Beijing, The Washington Times has learned.

Chinese government officials for months have been pressing the department to remove Therese Shaheen, Washington director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), the de facto U.S. embassy, Bush administration officials said.

Mrs. Shaheen is viewed by the Chinese as pro-Taipei and publicly has said the Chinese government’s claims that the U.S. opposes Taiwan’s independence are inaccurate.

Mrs. Shaheen was criticized in public and private by senior Chinese leaders during the past several months as part of Beijing’s diplomacy on Taiwan, which it views as a breakaway province and not a separate country.

Two U.S. officials said yesterday that Mrs. Shaheen has not resigned but that senior State Department officials are considering her replacement.

In the past, she has clashed with another AIT official, Douglas Paal, the U.S. diplomatic representative based in Taipei who has been criticized for his pro-Beijing views. Mrs. Shaheen is based in Washington.

Asked if Mrs. Shaheen will be replaced, a senior State Department official familiar with Asian affairs declined to comment.

One official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the Chinese government has made several official protests to both the State Department and the White House National Security Council staff claiming Mrs. Shaheen is pro-Taiwan.

Mrs. Shaheen also was a topic of discussion during Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo’s visit to Washington on March 9.

Mr. Dai asked the Bush administration to provide China with a “demonstration or symbol of good faith by having Therese removed from her position,” the official said.

“Apparently, senior people at State and NSC are on the verge of moving her out of her position as a gesture of good faith and to move the relationship with Beijing forward,” the official said.

A second official said senior Chinese government officials, including Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, have complained to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell several times since September about Mrs. Shaheen.

“She is the first real target of the PRC,” said this official, using the acronym for the People’s Republic of China. “They have collected intelligence on her very carefully since she briefed Bush and debated Paal in front of Bush last fall.”

The second official said Taiwan “no longer has the lobbying power” it had 20 years ago to influence U.S. policy debates.

China, on the other hand, now “knows more about U.S. policy processes and people and this is their first test case to boldly try and destroy a pro-Taiwan official,” the official said.

Mrs. Shaheen told Taiwanese reporters during an interview in 2003 that the U.S. position of not supporting Taiwan independence did not mean that the United States opposes independence.

China and its supporters in the United States used Mrs. Shaheen’s comments as part of a campaign against her, officials said.

China has said that it would use force to reunite the island with the mainland, if Taiwan formally declares independence.

In April 2001, President Bush said the United States would do “whatever it takes” to help Taiwan defend itself.

In December, Mr. Bush said during a visit of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao that recent “comments and actions” by Chen Shui-bian, president of the Republic of China (Taiwan), indicate Taiwan may “change the status quo, which we oppose.”

The Chinese government interpreted the remarks as U.S. opposition to Taiwan independence.

Last month, the Pentagon announced it would sell Taiwan long-range radar worth $1.7 billion. The administration also plans to sell Taiwan Aegis battle management system-equipped guided missile destroyers, diesel submarines and other hardware.

The U.S. arms sales are designed to counter the growing Chinese military buildup opposite Taiwan, which includes some 500 short-range missiles aimed at the island.

China’s embassy in Washington recently added English-speaking officials to help influence the Bush administration and Congress to support Beijing’s positions.

Taiwan remains the major dividing issue between the United States and China.

Mr. Chen, whose political party in the past has favored recognizing Taiwan as an independent state, narrowly won re-election last month against the opposition party, which has regarded itself as the legitimate government of China since it fled the mainland in 1949 for Taiwan.

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