The Bush administration took note Friday of what it said is "flexibility" shown by Taiwanese President Chen Shui-Bian in his revised referendum on Chinese missile deployments near the island. It also welcomed his renewed commitment to pursue dialogue with Beijing.
The Taiwanese leader's expressed intention last month to hold a referendum demanding the withdrawal of Chinese missiles caused a crisis in the unofficial U.S. relationship with Taiwan.
But the tensions appear to have been eased by the final referendum language issued Friday, which is much less pointed on the missile question and also asks Taiwanese voters whether there should be negotiations with Beijing to promote a peaceful framework for interaction with the mainland.
At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said U.S. officials will study the terms of the ballot question, which now will ask Taiwanese voters whether the island should deploy more anti-ballistic missiles if China does not withdraw its missile forces.
But Mr. Boucher said the measure as it now stands does show flexibility and he also welcomed conciliatory language by Mr. Chen in a televised address Friday announcing the referendum.
"He seems to have shown some flexibility on the wording in this, in terms of what's come out versus what was talked about in the past," he said. "But I think the policy parameters for us are quite clear. We also note that in his speech, he did commit not change the status-quo, and to pursue a dialogue with Beijing. Those are both things we're supported in the past."
Mr. Boucher said the United States is not against referenda per se, which he said can be useful tools of government. But he said it does oppose trying to define a resolution of the China-Taiwan issue unilaterally, be that through a referendum, policy statement, or a resort to the use of force.
The initial announcement of the referendum plan last month prompted a sharp rebuke of Mr. Chen by President Bush, who said it appeared that the Taiwanese leader wanted to unilaterally change the status quo and that the United States opposed it.
In his comments, Mr. Boucher reaffirmed the U.S. adherence to a one-China policy and commitments made when the United States switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to Beijing in 1979, including the Taiwan relations act from Congress providing for sales of U.S. defensive arms to the island.