Bush Opposes Taiwan Bid for Independence

President Bush said Tuesday after meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao that he opposes the apparent interest of Taiwan's leaders in taking steps toward independence.
Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office after a 40-minute meeting with Wen, Bush said he had told the premier, "The United States policy is one China."

"We oppose any unilateral decision by either China or Taiwan to change the status quo," Bush said, "and the comments and actions made by the leader of Taiwan indicate that he may be willing to make decisions unilaterally, to change the status quo, which we oppose."

It was the administration's strongest statement to date in opposition to Taiwan's plan to conduct a referendum on March 20 on whether the Taiwanese people want to demand that China withdraw hundreds of missiles aimed at Taiwan and renounce the use of force against the island.

The administration sees this as an indirect step toward independence, a view shared by Chinese authorities who have threatened military action against the island if the referendum proceeds as planned. But Wen, refraining from belligerent comments, said China's goal is to pursue peaceful reunification with Taiwan, "as long as a glimmer of hope" exists. BEGIN POSITION 3 END POSITION 3

"Stability can only be maintained through unswerving opposition to pro-independence activities," Wen said. He said his country sought to maintain a system of "one country, two systems."

"We will do our utmost to bring about national reunification through peaceful means," Wen said.

"The Chinese government respects the desire of people in Taiwan for democracy, but we must point out that the (Taiwanese leaders) are only using democracy as an excuse and attempt to resort to defensive referendums to split Taiwan away from China," he said. "Such separatist activities are what the Chinese side can absolutely not accept."

On the issue of stability on the Korean peninsula, the United States hopes to be able to negotiate an end to North Korea's nuclear weapons program, with assistance from China.

At present, China is attempting to reconvene six-party talks aimed at resolving the impasse.

Bush expressed appreciation to China for starting the process this past summer.

"The goal is to dismantle a nuclear weapons program in a verifiable and irreversible way, and that is a clear message that we are sending to the North Koreans," Bush said. "We will continue to work with China and the other countries involved to solve this issue peacefully."

The other countries, aside from China and the United States, are the two Koreas, Japan and Russia.

In response to a question on trade disputes, Wen said China has been taking steps to reduce the massive U.S. trade deficit, adding that he planned to submit a proposal on this issue during his luncheon meeting with Bush and other officials. He gave no hint on what was in the proposal.

U.S.-China trade has come a long way since 25 years ago, Wen said. The combined total was a mere $2.5 billion a year, compared with the current figure of more than $100 billion, he said.

"We have to admit, though, in our economic and trade relationship, problems still exist, and mainly the U.S. trade deficit with China," Wen said - prompting a "thank you" from Bush.

"The Chinese government takes this problem seriously, and has taken measures to improve the situation," Wen said.

Earlier, during an arrival ceremony on the South Lawn, Bush gently chided China on human rights and on Beijing's economic policies.

"The growth of economic freedom in China provides reason to hope that social, political and religious freedoms will grow there as well," Bush told Wen and an audience of dignitaries. "In the long run, these freedoms are indivisible and essential to national greatness and national dignity."

China joined the World Trade Organization two years ago. The administration has been pushing Beijing to speed up market opening measures and relax controls on its currency that it contends make Chinese exports unfairly cheap on world markets.

"We recognize that if prosperity's power is to reach into every corner of China, the Chinese government must fully integrate into the rules and norms of the international trading and finance system," Bush said.

Bush also said the growing strength and maturity of the relationship "allows us to discuss our differences, whether over economic issues, Taiwan, Tibet or human rights and religious freedom, in a spirit of mutual understanding and respect." Wen said: "At the present crucial juncture, we face opportunities and challenges. The fundamental interests of the two peoples require China and the United States to step up cooperation. ... China-U.S. relations must go on improving."

The administration's tough stance on Taiwan could reflect the importance that it attaches to continued Chinese cooperation on the North Korea issue. The United States and its partners in the talks are attempting to work out a statement that all sides, North Korea included, could agree to. If that goal is achieved, a new six-party meeting in Beijing will be convened.

On Monday, an administration official previewed for reporters U.S. opposition to Taiwan's plan to hold the March referendum. A new law gives him the power to hold a "defensive referendum" when the island's sovereignty faces imminent threat.

The referendum, timed to coincide with presidential elections, would ask voters whether they want to demand that China withdraw hundreds of missiles aimed at Taiwan and renounce the use of force against the island.

In Taipei, Taiwanese Foreign Minister Eugene Chien said: "The United States doesn't want our referendum to affect the stability in the Taiwan Strait. We fully understand this."

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved.