`UNACCEPTABLE': US officials believe Beijing's tough talk may represent its frustration about its inability to influence the constitutional changes in Taiwan
By Charles Snyder
STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON
Friday, Nov 21, 2003,Page 3
The US has warned China not to consider the use of military force against Taiwan, as Beijing continues to escalate its war of words against President Chen Shui-bian's (???) pledge to hold a referendum and write a new constitution, which China views as attempts to declare indepen-dence.
"The use of force to resolve cross-strait differences is unacceptable," State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said.
"We oppose any attempt by either side to unilaterally change the status quo in the Taiwan Strait," he told reporters in his regular daily press briefing.
He was responding to a statement overnight by Wang Zaixi (???), the vice minister of the Taiwan Affairs Office of China's State Council, that Chen's recent pronouncements and actions "run the risk of triggering a war" between China and Taiwan, according to mainland news reports.
"If the Taiwan authorities collude with all splittist forces to openly engage in pro-independence activities and challenge the mainland and the one-China principle, the use of force may become unavoidable," Wang said, according to a report in the Chinese-language media.
Privately, though, US officials appear to be downplaying Wang's remarks and the increasingly strident warnings Beijing has issued in recent days.
One senior administration official says that Beijing's tough talk may represent a "frustration" China feels about its inability to influence the course of events.
"They feel hamstrung," the official told the Taipei Times, "that they can't respond in an overly negative way or heavy-handed way, because to do so risks a repeat of 1996 and 2000, when they actually contributed to the fortunes of the candidate they did not wan to win."
He was referring to the missile exercise China mounted in the Strait in 1996, that might have contributed to the election of former president Lee Teng-hui (???), and Beijing's bellicose pronouncements, including a White Paper that threatened military action in 2000, that is seen as having contributed to Chen's victory.
Meanwhile, US and Chinese officials have stepped up their consultation about the Taiwan Strait crisis in recent days. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly raised the issue in Beijing, where he is visiting to discuss the North Korea situation, according to US officials, and the State Department has met with Chinese Embassy officials to discuss the situation.
"We talk to the Chinese every day," noted one administration official. "We don't want to see the ratcheting up of tensions," and have told that to the Chinese, the official said.
The increasingly strident Chinese comments are gaining the attention of top US officials.
"We're noting the fact that Beijing is more concerned and [we are] paying attention to what they're saying, both privately and publicly," a senior official said.
Nevertheless, officials say "we're not worried."
US-China specialists note that the most threatening of the comments recently have come from Wang's Taiwan Affairs Office.
"They appear particularly frustrated," a US official said, "because it is their policy, and people are complaining to them that `You guys are not saying anything or doing anything' about Chen's activities," an official noted.
The White House has declined comment on the situation.