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Thursday, December 23, 2004

Taiwan News > U.S. official calls Taiwan a 'landmine'

U.S. official calls Taiwan a 'landmine'
Date: 2004/12/23 12:56:49
SOURCE: Taiwan News

A top U.S. official's description of Taiwan as the "biggest land mine" in Washington's relations with China sparked anxiety in Taipei on Wednesday, even as local officials tried to downplay the significance of the statement.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage made the statement in an interview with the Public Broadcasting Service in the United States, also saying explicitly, "We all agree that there is but one China, and Taiwan is part of China."

Responding to the comments, Cabinet Spokesman Chen Chih-mai said that Taiwan is consulting with the U.S. government on Armitage's statements, while Foreign Minister Chen Tan-sun (陳唐山) downplayed the remarks, saying that U.S. policy toward Taiwan remains unchanged.

Mainland Affairs Council Vice Chairman Chiu Tai-san (邱太三) said that "there were some terms that were never used before, that's why we have to consult with the U.S. government."

Taiwan has seen the United States as a protector in the decades-old rivalry with China.

Some political observers interpreted Armitage's comments as another crisis in Taiwan-U.S. relations, especially after Secretary of State Colin Powell said in Beijing in October that Taiwan does not enjoy sovereignty and suggested that Taiwan should eventually unify with China.

Lo Chih-cheng (羅致政), executive director of the Institute of National Policy Research in Taipei, argued that Armitage's explicit statement on Taiwan's sovereignty would rationalize Beijing's planned "Anti-Secession Law," which it announced last Friday.

"That statement worries me more than his other comments," Lo said.

Asked by the PBS interviewer what was the biggest land mine in U.S.-China relations, Armitage replied: "I would say Taiwan. Taiwan is one. It's probably the biggest."

When asked if Washington would intervene if China launched an attack on Taiwan, Armitage said it would be inappropriate to respond to that question.

War is one of the powers of Congress, he told the interviewer.

Former Mainland Affairs Council Vice Chairman Alexander Huang (黃介正), now a professor at Tamkang University's Institute of American Studies, suggested that the main purpose of Armitage's statement was to remind Taiwan of the necessity to increase its self-defense capability.

Michael Fonte, the Democratic Progressive Party's Washington liaison, said that lately the Bush administration has been frustrated with Taiwan's failure to pass the NT$610.8 billion budget for arm procurement, as well as with the challenges to the "one-China" policy.

Fonte advised that in the interest of repairing Taiwan-U.S. ties, Taiwan should stop challenging the "one-China" policy, as the U.S. sees the policy as a form of protection for Taiwan. China has also been pushing the U.S. for a revision of the policy to favor Beijing, Fonte said.

The United States, meanwhile, has assigned a serving military officer to its de facto embassy, the American Institute in Taiwan.

The institute has hired retired military officers over the past few decades as contractors to coordinate defense affairs between both sides, but the insisted that the latest move is "simply an effort to promote administrative efficiency in personnel matters, nothing more."

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