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US Says Taiwanese President's Independence Remarks 'Unhelpful'


The U.S. State Department Monday labeled as "unhelpful" a statement by Taiwan's president, Chen Shui-bian, that the island should be independent from China. The United States has a one-China policy officially recognizing only Beijing, but it provides Taiwan with defensive arms. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The Taiwanese president's pro-independence comments over the years have complicated U.S. efforts for a peaceful resolution of the dispute between China and Taiwan. And the latest remarks by Mr. Chen have drawn a stiff rebuke from the Bush administration.

Though the Taiwanese leader had given the United States past assurances that he would soften his rhetoric, he renewed the controversy Sunday with an address in which he said the island should be independent, and that Taiwan is a country whose sovereignty lies outside the People's Republic of China.

The remarks drew the expected furious response from Beijing, which considers Taiwan a breakaway province and has threatened military force if necessary to achieve eventual reunification.

At a news briefing here, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack reiterated U.S. opposition to Taiwanese independence, and said President Bush has repeatedly underscored his opposition to unilateral changes in the status-quo by either Taipei or Beijing as threats to regional security.

McCormack cited Mr. Chen's own multiple pledges to exclude independence themes from his political agenda and said he should adhere to them:

"President Chen's fulfillment of his commitments is a test of leadership, dependability and statesmanship and of his ability to protect Taiwan's interests, its relations with others, and to maintain peace and stability in the [Taiwan] Strait," said Sean McCormack. "Rhetoric that could raise doubts about these commitments is unhelpful."

Under questioning McCormack later said specifically that U.S. officials consider the Taiwanese leader's latest comments unhelpful, and expressed hope that amid the uproar he will make clear that he intends to adhere to previous commitments to discard independence rhetoric.

The United States switched official recognition from Taiwan to the communist government in the mainland nearly three decades ago, but under an act of Congress at that time it continues to sell Taiwan defensive weapons. The United States and Taiwan maintain unofficial relations through nominally private policy institutes in each other's capitals.

Spokesman McCormack said the United States has separately expressed concern to Beijing about China's ongoing military buildup as potentially destabilizing.

On his first foreign trip since assuming his new role, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said Monday in Beijing that the United States is concerned by a lack of transparency in China's military budget, which is slated to increase by nearly 18 per cent this year.

On a visit to Australia late last month, Vice President Dick Cheney said the buildup and China's recent test of an anti-satellite weapon were not consistent with its stated aim of a peaceful rise to global power status.