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Taiwan diplomats dismiss mainland saber rattling

Taiwan’s two most senior diplomats in Washington on Tuesday dismissed mainland China’s renewed threats to attack the island, and stressed that the administration of President Chen Shui-bian has done nothing to warrant such hostile rhetoric.

Mainland Chinese officials, including Premier Wen Jiabao, have stepped up pressure on the United States to oppose plans by the Chen administration to hold referendums on key policy issues and to revise the island’s constitution.

Faced with Beijing’s loathing of President Chen’s leadership, Taiwan’s chief representative to the United States, Chen Chien-jen, and his staff have pulled out all the stops to try to convince the international community, and Washington in particular, that the government has no plans to declare Taiwan independence.

“This is all part of the democratization process in Taiwan. Taiwan’s people want a better, more mature democracy,” noted Representative Chen, and the island’s “leaders are well aware of the people’s aspiration.”

Taiwan’s leaders also understand the sensitive nature of the issues, particularly in the lead-up to a presidential election, and have been careful to frequently reiterate President Chen’s inaugural pledge to adhere to the so-called “four noes” policy, the representative explained.

“We’re not going to vote on unification or independence,” he stressed.

Regardless of the mainland’s threats, “we (Taiwan’s people) have to continuously go forward, deepening our democracy by having a new constitution,” remarked Taiwan’s Deputy Representative Michael Tsai.

“I don’t believe China would wage a war against Taiwan just because we have a new constitution,” he said.

The efforts by Taiwan’s diplomats and visiting envoys, such as Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen, in explaining the government’s rationale, are paying off, according to Chen.

“At first, some (in the Bush administration) did express concern, but now I think they understand what we mean,” he said.

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Randall G. Schriver, speaking to Taiwan’s reporters on Nov. 20, clarified the U.S. position on the issues, noted Chen.

“We (the U.S.) understand (Taiwan’s) interest in pursuing referenda, as well as the new constitution,” said Schriver.

“Whether to pursue a referendum, whether to alter the constitution, is really a matter of Taiwan domestic politics, and we (the U.S.) don’t meddle in that,” he continued.

And, although President Chen has repeatedly stated his pledge to stand by his “four noes” pledge, which includes a promise not to declare Taiwan independence, getting Beijing to believe the president is virtually a non-starter.

Still, the president’s assurances are also designed to “make sure people on the other side of the Taiwan Strait understand quite clearly why and to what extent (Taiwan is) going to have a referendum and a new constitution,” noted Representative Chen. Though he doubts Taiwan’s message will be heard in Beijing.

Premier Wen’s comments may reflect Beijing’s official position, but “it doesn’t mean his understanding of what’s going on in Taiwan is correct,” said Chen.

Premier Wen is due in Washington on Dec. 7 for meetings with U.S. officials that are predicted to focus heavily on Taiwan.

On Taiwan at least, Wen may walk away empty-handed, as the Bush administration looks set to stick to its tried and tested formula when discussing cross-strait relations, according to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Responding to a reporter’s question, while accompanied by Macedonia’s Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski at the State Department in Washington on Tuesday, Powell commented: “you can be absolutely sure that we will be prepared to discuss Taiwan. As we always do, we reaffirm to our Chinese guests that our “one China” policy remains our policy, founded on the three communiques, as well as the Taiwan Relations Act.”

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