The State Department said Wednesday that the head of the de-facto U.S. diplomatic mission in Taiwan, Therese Shaheen, has resigned. But a spokesman denied she was pushed out in response to Chinese calls for her ouster. The State Department says Ms. Shaheen resigned in a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell, saying she wanted to spend more time with her family and that the recent completion of presidential elections in Taiwan made it an appropriate time to step down.
Ms. Shaheen had been head of the American Institute in Taiwan, the nominally private entity that handles unofficial U.S. relations with Taiwan since the end of 2002.
Confirmation of her resignation followed a Washington Times newspaper report that the State Department was planning to replace her because of complaints from Beijing that she is pro-Taiwan.
At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli did not deny suggestions that Ms. Shaheen had been asked to step down. At the same time, though, he made clear that the State Department was not acting because of Chinese pressure.
"We thank Ms. Shaheen for her services and wish her the best," he said. "As far as press reports go that the Chinese raised this issue with us, I would note that those reports are false. China never asked that managing-director Shaheen be removed, nor would the United States in any way be responsive to such requests if they were made."
State Department officials said problems with Ms. Shaheen emanated not from Chinese complaints but from concerns that her statements on the sensitive U.S.-Taiwan relationship sometimes were at variance with official U.S. policy. She is understood to have drawn internal criticism last year for telling Taiwanese reporters that the long-standing U.S. policy of "not supporting" Taiwanese independence did not mean the United States opposes the concept.
The United States has had only unofficial relations with Taiwan since 1979, when it switched its diplomatic recognition to Beijing, which regards the island as a renegade province. The U.S. has supported cross-strait dialogue between China and Taiwanese authorities, and opposes any effort to change the status quo through the use of force.