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U.S. OFFICIAL REPORTEDLY ASKS M'LAND TO REMOVE MISSILES AIMED AT ROC

2004-02-13 12:42:40

    New York, Feb. 12 (CNA) A senior U.S. defense official told mainland Chinese officials earlier this week in Beijing that mainland China should withdraw its deployed missiles aimed at Taiwan.

    During his visit to Beijing, Douglas J. Feith, U.S. undersecretary for defense for policy, stressed that "the burden of reducing tensions across the Taiwan Strait falls heavily on Beijing," according to a New York Times report Thursday.

    The newspaper reported that while meeting with mainland officials to discuss security matters, Feith pressed them to consider whether the buildup of mainland Chinese missiles is serving the interests of maintaining peace between China and Taiwan.

    Feith's comments may pour cool water on mainland China's hopes that Washington would intervene decisively to prevent Taiwan from holding its planned referendum, the newspaper said.

    Republic of China President Chen Shui-bian and his ruling Democratic Progressive Party government have decided to hold a referendum in conjunction with Taiwan's next presidential election set for this March 20. "U.S. President Bush and State Department officials have spoken out against Taiwan's planned referendum and urged Mr. Chen not to provoke China, " the daily reported, adding that "in diplomatic meetings over the past weeks, Chinese officials have urged the Bush administration to take firmer measures to head off the referendum."

    Pointing out that he would not discuss the diplomatic issues involved with the referendum in his talks in Beijing, Feith said that when his mainland Chinese counterparts raised the issue, he reiterated what President Bush told Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in December that "he felt Taiwan's referendum could upset the status quo," the newspaper reported.

    Feith told the mainland Chinese officials that they should carefully consider whether their own military posture is increasing tensions with Taiwan and ultimately harming their own interests, the newspaper said, adding that the U.S. official also told them that "the missile buildup is maybe having some unintended consequences." "In a diplomatic dialogue in which victories are measured in accents and elisions, Mr. Feith's comments are likely to be viewed as more beneficial to Mr. Chen than recent statements made by senior State Department officials, " the newspaper said, "The subtle differences may well signal to both mainland China and Taiwan that there is no consensus within the Bush administration to do more than it has already done to dissuade Mr. Chen from holding the referendum."

    Pointing out that the current situation leaves Beijing facing an unpalatable choice, the newspaper said that mainland Chinese officials could decide to accept the referendum as a fait accompli, handing a political victory to President Chen and undermining their own credibility, or China could follow through on its threats of military action, potentially drawing the United States into a conflict. "Most analysts believe China will tolerate the referendum, partly because any belligerent steps could bolster Mr. Chen's re-election hopes, " the newspaper said, adding that analysts also say that "even if China wanted to influence the results (of Taiwan's presidential election), its options are limited."

    Attempts to frighten or bully Taiwan voters into choosing China's favored candidate in 1996 and 2000 ended up bolstering the candidate China least favored, the newspaper noted.

(By Lillian Lin and P.C. Tang)

Enditem/Li



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