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Bush Sends Stern Warning to Taiwan over Independence Moves - 2003-12-09

President Bush says he opposes any action by Taiwan's leaders to declare their independence from China. Mr. Bush spoke at the White House during an official visit by China's Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.

The concern over Taiwan follows a decision by the country's leaders to hold a referendum in three months that could lead to greater calls for formal independence from China.

Meeting with the Chinese prime minister in the Oval Office, President Bush says neither country should try to change the nature of the relationship that has separated them since 1949. "We oppose any unilateral decision by either China or Taiwan to change the status quo. And the comments and actions made by the leader of Taiwan indicate that he may be willing to make decisions unilaterally that change the status quo which we oppose," he said.

China considers Taiwan an inseparable part of the country and has long vowed to use its military to prevent any attempt at independence. Prime Minister Wen says China wants a peaceful reunification with Taiwan.

He said Taiwanese leader Chen Shui-bian is purposefully misleading the people. "The Chinese government respects the desire of people in Taiwan for democracy, but we must point out that the attempts of Taiwan authorities, headed by Chen Shui-bian are only using democracy as an excuse and an attempt to resort to a defensive referendum to split Taiwan away from China. Such separatist activities are what the Chinese side can absolutely not accept and tolerate," he said.

Prime Minister Wen said China appreciates the U.S. position on Taiwan's planned referendum.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan would not respond to reports that the Bush administration has asked Taipei to cancel the March vote, saying only that the country's leaders are "well aware" of the president's views.

Mr. Bush says the Chinese prime minister's visit reflects increasing ties of cooperation between the countries in fighting terrorism and trying to convince North Korea to give-up its nuclear weapons program. "We are partners in diplomacy working to meet the dangers of the 21st century," he said.

President Bush says he is grateful for China's leadership in multi-lateral talks between North Korea, South Korea, Russia, Japan, China, and the United States. The president says stopping Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program is essential to a stable and peaceful Korean peninsula.

The prime minister's visit also includes talk of differences over currency rates, Tibet and human rights. Mr. Bush says discussing those differences openly is all part of healthy U.S.-China relations. "The growing strength and maturity of our relationship allows us to discuss our differences, whether over economic issues, Taiwan, Tibet, or human rights and religious freedoms, in a spirit of mutual understanding and respect," he said.

The importance of this visit was reflected in the prime minister's White House welcome, which was more similar to ceremonies for a visiting head of state with a full honor guard on the South Lawn.