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US Takes Clear Stance on Taiwan Agenda
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By Tao Wenzhao


At a House International Relations Committee hearing last Wednesday, Robert Zoellick, the US deputy secretary of state, sent a strong warning signal to the Taiwan authorities and some ironclad pro-Taiwan US lawmakers. This has drawn widespread attention.


Earlier this month, Taiwan leader Chen Shui-bian was denied a layover in the US by the US authorities during his South America visit and he had to make a gigantic detour, which took him 37 hours to get to his destination.


Chen vented his grievance to a number of US House representatives in their meeting on the sidelines of the inauguration of the Costa Rican president.


His complaints struck a sympathetic chord with these US lawmakers and they asked Zoellick at the hearing if the US government refused to allow Chen to stop in a US city because it was under the pressure of the Chinese mainland.


Zoellick answered by saying, "The balance is that we want to be supportive of Taiwan while we're not encouraging those that try to move toward independence…. Because let me be very clear: independence means war. And that means casualties of American soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines."


Zoellick's remarks have three connotations.


First, the US government is clear about China's will for the reunification of the motherland, which finds expression in the formulation of the Anti-Secession Law last March and Chinese leaders' reiteration that China is determined to safeguard its national sovereignty and territorial integrity at all costs.


The strong message has registered with the US government and is treated very seriously.


Second, in case war broke out between the mainland and Taiwan, the US would be drawn into the conflict because of its obligations and commitments in the Taiwan Relations Act. This would mean casualties of US armed forces.


Third, the US does not want to go to war with China for the sake of Taiwan. So the US government discourages "Taiwan independence" and cautiously handles Taiwan-related affairs, including the Taiwan leader's layovers in the US.


This is the first time that a high-ranking US official used such clear-cut language to sound warnings against "Taiwan independence."


On April 2004, James Kelly, the then US assistant secretary of state, said at a House International Relations Committee meeting that it was irresponsible for the US and the Taiwan authorities to treat China's intolerance of "Taiwan independence" as a sheer bluff.


That sounded a warning against "Taiwan independence" elements but the language was more round about than the words used by Zoellick this time.


This is also a warning for the ears of some US lawmakers, suggesting "Taiwan independence" be not encouraged, otherwise it would mean US involvement in war and, in turn, US casualties.


Some may ask if Zoellick was voicing his personal opinion or representing the policy of the Bush administration. He was taking the official stand of the US government.


It should be remembered that Zoellick, speaking at the National Committee on US-China Relations last September, defined China as a "stakeholder" in the international system and some people then asked him there if he represented the US government with that statement.


The term has been cited by senior US officials time and again and was even included into the White House National Security Strategy Report. Now it is clear that Zoellick was speaking for the US government.


Zoellick, having an economics background, is the leading voice in the US policy toward China. The way the policy is expressed is, of course, tinged with his personal attributes. But his position undoubtedly represents that of the US government's.


Zoellick also reaffirmed that the US has adopted a one-China policy ever since the 1970s and if some people want to challenge this policy, they would hit a wall.


This suggests that the one-China policy, constituting the political cornerstone for Sino-US ties, has been consistently pursued by the US government over the decades ever since the Chinese-American rapprochement in the 1970s.


Chen's abolishment of the "National Unification Council" and "National Unification Guidelines" in February indeed upset the US and his political credibility with Washington plummeted sharply. Moreover, his behavior is unpredictable and the US is not sure of what he will be up to next in the course of "introducing constitutional amendments."


So the US has made its position very clear in the hope of forestalling any possible treacherous political moves on Chen's part.


It is only natural that Zoellick's remarks made Chen unhappy and resentful.


Chen said on Saturday that the status quo between the mainland and Taiwan was "two countries across the Straits," harping on the "one country on each side" fallacy he put forward in August 2002.


Though he reiterated the US remained the focus of Taiwan's diplomacy, Chen said stopover in the US would not be important in his future overseas visits. Sour grape. No wonder some media reports say that Chen has lost his "Taiwan card game."


The author is a senior researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.


(China Daily May 18, 2006)


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