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2/8/04 - U.S. COMMITMENT TO TAIWAN - 2004-02-02

General Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met recently in Beijing with senior Chinese leaders. Among other things, relations between China and Taiwan were discussed. General Myers pointed out that President George W. Bush has said that neither side should take unilateral action to change the status quo. General Myers expressed U.S. concern at the buildup of military forces, including surface-to-surface missiles, on the Chinese mainland side of the Taiwan Strait. The U.S., said General Myers, "is committed to helping Taiwan maintain its ability to resist the use of force or coercion."

Taiwan's president Chen Shui-bian has called for a referendum that would ask voters whether Taiwan should purchase advanced anti-missile weapons if China refuses to move its offensive missiles. Voters would also be asked whether Taiwan should negotiate with China to establish "a peaceful and stable framework for cross-strait interactions."

"I think President Chen has shown a little flexibility in the way those two questions have been worded," said U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. China says it opposes the referendum. China says it is concerned about Taiwan moving toward or declaring independence. This, says China, would lead it to use force against Taiwan.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says the U.S. will honor its commitments to Taiwan:

"I think if you look in U.S. law and policy over the years that we have been committed to helping the people in Taiwan with their legitimate defensive needs. It's an ongoing obligation. It's a responsibility that we do take seriously. At the same time, the management of the issue requires that neither party take unilateral moves to try to alter the situation."

The U.S. has long stressed the importance of direct dialogue between China and Taiwan to address outstanding concerns. "No unilateral action should be taken," said Secretary of State Powell, "which would prejudice the ability to move forward and achieve reconciliation in due course."