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Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Taiwan plays down U.S. comments about the island being a "land mine" in U.S.-China relations

Taiwan plays down U.S. comments about the island being a "land mine" in U.S.-China relations: "Wednesday December 22, 11:55 AM
Taiwan plays down U.S. comments about the island being a 'land mine' in U.S.-China relations
Wednesday December 22, 11:55 AM
Taiwan plays down U.S. comments about the island being a "land mine" in U.S.-China relations

Taiwan on Wednesday played down comments by a top U.S. official who described the island as the biggest land mine in Washington's relations with China.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage made the statement in an interview with the Public Broadcasting Service in the United States.

Taiwan sees the United States as its protector in its decades-old rivalry with China, and some here interpreted Armitage's comments as signal that Washington might be losing interest in the island.

Those fears were fanned when he reiterated that if there was a conflict between Taiwan and China, split by a civil war more than five decades ago, it would be up to the U.S Congress _ not the Bush administration _ to declare war on Beijing.

Taiwanese officials said there was no reason to think that Washington was changing its support for the island or trying to send a message, saying Armitage meant only Taiwan was a sensitive issue.

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

Beijing still considers the self-ruled, democratic island to be a province which must be unified, even at the cost of war. When asked if Washington would intervene if China launched an attack on Taiwan, Armitage said it would be inappropriate to respond.

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

Taiwan's foreign ministry noted Wednesday that the word "land mine" was introduced by the questioner. Armitage only meant to say Taiwan "was a sensitive subject," ministry spokesman Michel Ching-long Lu told cable station ETTV.

Joseph Wu, the Cabinet member in charge of relations with China, also downplayed the remark.

"He is just using an expression Americans are rather familiar with," said Wu, who also did not see any significance in Armitage's comments about Congress.

The United States has no obligation to defend Taiwan in the case of war, Wu said, adding the Taiwan Relations Act only forced Washington to sell the island enough weapons to defend itself.

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