The United States has labeled as unhelpful a Chinese draft law that would effectively authorize the use of force against Taiwan if it takes concrete steps toward independence. The State Department says U.S. officials are urging both sides to avoid steps that would raise tensions.
Officials here say the Bush administration has been privately urging China for some time to shelve the controversial measure, which has already raised tensions across the Taiwan Strait.
But reports from Beijing say passage of the legislation by China's National People's Congress next week is a virtual certainty, after the new law was formally presented Tuesday and published in the state media.
The draft measure says the Beijing government will exert utmost efforts to achieve the peaceful reunification of Taiwan with the mainland.
However, it says if such possibilities are exhausted, or if major incidents for Taiwanese secession occur, then China will employ what are termed non-peaceful means and other necessary measures to protect Chinese sovereignty and territorial integrity.
State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher says the United States, while embracing a One China policy, has always opposed any attempt to determine the future of Taiwan through anything other than peaceful means.
He said the draft bill, as outlined by a senior official of the Chinese parliament, Wang Zhaoquo, runs counter to recent trends toward the warming of cross-strait relations, and the United States would consider its passage unhelpful.
"Our policy, I think, is well-known," he said. "But let me say again, we're committed to a one-China policy, we uphold the three communiqués. We do not support Taiwan independence. Moreover we oppose any attempts to unilaterally alter the status quo by either side. We'll continue to talk to both sides about these developments. We'll continue to urge both sides to avoid steps that raise tension, that risk beginning a cycle of reaction and counter-action."
China has never foresworn the use of force to achieve reunification with Taiwan, which it considers a renegade province. But the legislation would for the first time enshrine a threat to use force as a national law.
Spokesman Boucher said the United States has been raising concerns about the implications of the draft law with both parties since the Chinese government's intentions became known some weeks ago.
He said the issue did not come up in a telephone conversation Monday between Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and her Chinese counterpart Li Zhaoxing, but certainly would figure in talks when the Secretary visits Beijing.
That is widely expected to occur later this month when Ms. Rice makes her first trip as secretary to South and East Asia.
Though it severed formal relations with Taiwan when it recognized the communist government in Beijing in 1979, the United States is obligated to provide the island with defensive arms under the Taiwan Relations Act, approved by Congress at the time of the diplomatic switch.
There is no formal American defense commitment to Taiwan. But Mr. Boucher reiterated long-standing policy that the United States supports resolution of differences between the sides through dialogue, and would regard any attempt to settle them by non-peaceful means as a threat to peace and security in the region.
A senior U.S. diplomat who spoke to reporters said the dispute cannot be resolved through Chinese legislation or past referenda on the issue in Taiwan. He it is only going to be resolved by the two sides sitting down in peaceful dialogue, and that is what the United States is urging in contacts with both sides.