The United States Thursday welcomed what it said was the constructive message of Taiwanese President Chen Shui-Bian's inaugural speech as he began a second term in office. A U.S. official expressed hope the remarks will open the way to a new cross-strait dialogue between Taiwan and China.
The Bush administration had made no secret of its concerns about past statements by the Taiwanese leader suggesting that he favors steering the island toward independence.
Officials are relieved and pleased by the tone of Mr. Chen's inaugural message, in which he ruled out any immediate push for independence and said both Taiwan and China should use what he called new thinking to resolve their long-standing political conflict.
At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher congratulated Mr. Chen on beginning another four-year term and welcomed what he called the constructive message of his policy address.
"We appreciate his pledge that constitutional reforms will not touch on issues of sovereignty, territory, or the national title," he said. "We urge both Taiwan and the People's Republic of China to use this opportunity to engage in dialogue in order to resolve their differences peacefully. Our policy remains the same: the United States is firmly committed to our one-China policy, the three joint communiques, and our responsibilities under the Taiwan Relations Act. We do not support Taiwan independence, and we oppose attempts by either side to unilaterally alter the status quo."
Mr. Boucher said the United States has long held that the China-Taiwan dispute needs to be resolved absent the threat of force and that the outcome should be acceptable to the people on both sides of the Taiwan strait.
China earlier this week warned Mr. Chen to pull back from what it termed a dangerous lurch toward independence or face destruction, but also offered benefits if he embraced one-China doctrine.
In his speech, the Taiwanese leader said military threats will only serve to alienate the Taiwanese people and hurt the dialogue process.
The United States has had only unofficial ties with Taiwan since it switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing in 1979.
A U.S. delegation, including Republican Congressman Jim Leach, chairman of House International Relations East Asia subcommittee, attended the Chen inauguration, at the invitation of the nominally private institute that represents Taiwan's interests in Washington.