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30 January 2004

U.S. Opposes Unilateral Actions That Might Change Taiwan Situation

Deputy Secretary Armitage's remarks January 30

The United States opposes any unilateral action by either China or Taiwan that could affect the status quo in the region, says Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

"President Bush has made it quite clear that we are opposed, the United States is opposed, to any unilateral action which alters the status quo by either side," Armitage told reporters at a media round table January 30 during his visit to Beijing.

When asked about discussions in Taiwan about holding a referendum, Armitage replied: "As much as we respect Taiwan's democracy, the referendum in question does raise some questions."

(Taiwan's President Chen Shui-Bian has called for a public referendum on whether Taiwan should step up its anti-missile defenses against China.)

"As I understand it," Armitage said, "referenda are generally reserved for items or issues that are either very divisive, or very difficult. The wording that I have seen of the referendum seems to be neither divisive nor difficult. So I think it raises some questions about the motives of those who want to put it forward."

"The position of the United States on this is that we're studying this very carefully. It's not just the written words that would be in front of one on a paper, but it is the context of them and how they are used domestically. It's a very fluid situation."

The United States, Armitage said, wants to study the referendum proposal in context "and how it's used domestically." He noted that in Taiwan, "there is an election campaign going on, and that may have something to do with it."

Armitage said that during his discussions with China's leadership, he did get "a recitation that China's policy is for a peaceful resolution of the question, and they wanted assurances that the United States policy was still based on our one-China policy, our three Sino-U.S. Communiqués, and ... the Taiwan Relations Act. We had a pretty good discussion about the whole Taiwan situation."

Following is the State Department transcript of the event:

(begin transcript)

Media Round Table
Richard L. Armitage, Deputy Secretary of State
Beijing, China
January 30, 2004

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: You are the only twelve I haven't met with today. I've met with everyone else in town, I think. I'll just tell you with whom I met and why I'm here, and then I'll just shut up and let you guys ask any questions that you might like.

Last year at about this time, I was here for consultations. I was invited again by our Chinese friends, who had a pretty good year of visits, with our President meeting with President Hu Jintao twice; Premier Wen's recent visit; the Defense Minister's visit to Washington; Dick Myers, our Chairman of the Joint Staff, here. We want to kick off the New Year equally with a series of high-level consultations. I'm here now. My colleague from the Defense Department, Mr. Feith, will be here probably later in February.

So we're having a series of these consultations. Today I met in the morning with Vice Foreign Minister Zhou Wenzhong, laterally with Vice Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo. I had lunch then with Zhou Wenzhong and his colleague, and we continued talking about our bilateral relationship. This afternoon I met with the Defense Minister for an hour, and I've just come from a meeting with Premier Wen.

You can imagine the subjects we covered. It went the gamut from Taiwan, to certainly the full level of bilateral relations including military-to-military relations, Taiwan, the international situation, DPRK, Iraq and reconstruction, etc. I've had a pretty full day of it, and after I've chatted with you folks, I'll go get a meal. I'll turn it over to you. Go ahead.

QUESTION: On the subject of Taiwan, were you given any assurances from the Chinese, in light of the announced language of the referendum, that they won't be ratcheting up the pressure, either militarily or rhetorically, on the Taiwanese government, in the run-up to the election.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: No, I didn't get assurances. I did get a recitation that China's policy is for a peaceful resolution of the question, and they wanted assurances that the United States policy was still based on our one-China policy, our three Sino-U.S. Communiqués, and of course I add also the Taiwan Relations Act. We had a pretty good discussion about the whole Taiwan situation.

QUESTION: If I could ask, what are the Chinese objections to the Taiwan Relations Act? Because I've asked them several times.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I think you should ask the Chinese. I don't want to be in the position of answering for them.

QUESTION: Could you perhaps say more about what was discussed about Taiwan, and what you were told by the Chinese?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Yeah, recently in Washington, and elsewhere here, we've had back and forth visits and discussions of Taiwan. President Bush has made it quite clear that we are opposed, the United States is opposed, to any unilateral action which alters the status quo by either side. As much as we respect Taiwan's democracy, the referendum in question does raise some questions.

As I understand it, referenda are generally reserved for items or issues that are either very divisive, or very difficult. The wording that I have seen of the referendum seems to be neither divisive nor difficult. So I think it raises some questions about the motives of those who want to put it forward.

The position of the United States on this is that we're studying this very carefully. It's not just the written words that would be in front of one on a paper, but it is the context of them and how they are used domestically. It's a very fluid situation.

QUESTION: Am I to take then, just to follow up on this, when the wording of the referendum was announced, I think your boss, in initial comments, said that the language showed some flexibility. Has there now been a rethink on this in taking a hard look at the language?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: No. The language that we saw on paper was not the language that I think most of us had been led to believe might be the case. I went on to suggest why referenda are sometimes open to question.

QUESTION: So the position is that you re still studying the language?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Yes, but I hope you'll use my whole statement, but we're still studying the language, because it is a fluid situation. We also want to see, as I said, the context, and how it's used domestically.

QUESTION: And what would be a Chinese reaction to that?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: They have to characterize their own reaction. I've been around here a little bit now, come on. I don't ask and answer my same question. You'll have to ask them.

QUESTION: How concerned are you about this sometimes random, sometimes not-so-random, ratcheting-up of rhetoric by the Chinese, the fact that every couple weeks or so some new academic are blitzed in the state press to essentially increase the tension. That's got to come across as counter-productive.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I don't know. You would be putting me on the side of saying that the tensions are only raised by China, and I'm not going to be in that position. The fact of the matter is, it's now twenty five years since we normalized relations, this year, and the question of Taiwan has been handled sensitively and sensibly by I used to say successive governments, but now I can say successive generations both in the U.S. and in the People's Republic of China, and we look for that wisdom to continue.

QUESTION: So why, given the huge leverage the U.S. has in Taiwan, why do the Taiwanese leaders not get the U.S. message clearly?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I think you'd have to ask the leader of Taiwan what he thinks the message is. There is an election campaign going on, and that may have something to do with it.

QUESTION: Sir, what sort of message do you think a visit like yours is sending to the Taiwanese public?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Since this is about my 25th visit, and historically I'm not sure if it sends much of a message at all. The visit is devoted primarily to U.S.-China relations. We're not trying to send a special message to the Taiwanese.

QUESTION: At the Crawford Summit between President Bush and then-President Jiang Zemin, an idea was sort of floated by President Jiang of redeploying some of the missiles that are based in coastal areas opposite of Taiwan or within striking range of Taiwan. Is that proposal still on the table? Is that being discussed?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: It's not actively being discussed to my knowledge, and I'm not sure how actively it was pursued by either side. Of course, we have legal obligations, and one of our concerns, as you allude to, is certainly the position of missiles across the Straits. Much beyond that, there were concerns about the military buildup vis-à-vis Taiwan, which brings us into a necessary position of doing something because of the Taiwan Relations Act.

QUESTION: Getting back to the Taiwan Relations Act for a second, what exactly do you tell the Chinese insofar as the Taiwan Relations Act? Do you reiterate the legislation? Because the Chinese always bring up Sino-U.S. relations being the three Joint Communiqués, whereas the U.S. says it's the three Joint Communiqués and the Taiwan Relations Act. It seems to be the largest sticking point in relations.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: It's not a matter of what I tell the Chinese. You act as if we have to tell them. They understand it very well. The Taiwan Relations Act came on the heels of Mr. Carter's normalization. I was a staff member in the U.S. Senate at the time of the drafting, and it was seen as a very judicious thing to do at the time, to make sure that whatever resolution came about came about because it was willingly endorsed or embraced by people on both sides of the Strait. So there is not a necessity to explain it to our friends in China. I think they know it very well.

QUESTION: I'm interested in hearing what the discussions with Dai Bingguo were about, specifically what you discussed in terms of the North Korea issue.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, we have engaged, as you are aware, in a lot of diplomacy with people from the Foreign Ministry of the People's Republic of China, as well as the Japanese, the Republic of Korea, and for that matter our Russian interlocutors. We compared our notes on those discussions. Dai Bingguo particularly has a wealth of knowledge because of his own deep experience in North Korea, and he explained to me, among other things, his view of the state of the economy. Both sides expressed the hope that we d have six-party talks soon.

QUESTION: Do you think those talks will take place in February?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I'll just content myself with soon.

QUESTION: Sir, what would you say is the biggest sticking point preventing the scheduling of those talks right now?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I don't know that there is a particular sticking point. This is a six-way maneuver. We've got six countries involved and it's not just about our schedules. Don't mean to leave that implication. It is a matter of making sure we are all pretty much aligned and we all know why we re going and what we hope to accomplish.

I think on the North Korean side, in their minds, there is a great deal of suspicion about what we are all about, and they have to overcome that. So I don't know that there is any particular one issue that I would put my finger on as a sticking point, but just the general difficulty of herding six of us in the same direction at the same time, while simultaneously dealing with what clearly is a legacy of suspicion.

QUESTION: How do the findings of the private group that recently went to North Korea affect the meeting? Does it help or hurt?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I think it's a neutral. I don't think it matters at all. We had very nice testimony by Sig Hecker and his colleagues, and you saw the conclusions they came to. I don't think they know much more than they knew before they went, but they felt there was a good deal of professionalism exhibited by those with whom they talked. Beyond that, we don't know much more than we knew when they were going in.

QUESTION: Can you assess the role of China in all of this? We tend to hear it piecemeal, and I would love to hear someone talk about that.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: In the question of the six-party talks?

QUESTION: Yes, and their involvement as a broker, as a mediator, that kind of thing, and whether that exists at all.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I wouldn't use the term broker at all. China is involved in doing this because it's in China's national interest. That is the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is very much in China's interest. It also happens to be very much in our interest, and the interests of the others at the talks. China has got the equity most immediately involved. That's why China does what she does. Having said that, the Government of the United States has expressed appreciation for the strenuous efforts that China has exhibited in trying to bring a peaceful resolution to this question.

QUESTION: I think there was a period when, going back into December, when one of the sticking points here was that China was seeking clear agreement on an outcome before reconvening of talks. Has the progress in moving towards reconvening now gotten past that?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I think anyone who is involved in diplomacy, as a general matter, never likes to ask a question the answer to which he doesn't already know. I think that's pretty much a going position whether you're Russian, or U.S., or Chinese. Having said that, I think it's a matter of expectations, and managing expectations more than anything else, and trying to get a process in place that, as President Bush says, will lead to what he believes can be a very successful and peaceful diplomatic effort.

QUESTION: Is there a sense of the chicken and the egg with the six-party talks, where both sides, both the United States and North Korea, are looking to the other side to make the concessions first?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: No, you are thinking too hard about it.

QUESTION: As you discuss strategy on North Korea, is it still on the table, the possibility that they were, for instance, bluffing about weapons?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well I think it's well known that our own intelligence communities have publicly stated their belief that, at a minimum, North Korea had one or two weapons.

QUESTION: They've all said may have one or two.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Yes, and I take them at their word. They spoke to Jim Kelly very clearly in front of all the other participants at the talks. You're welcome to test their memory. I think they'll come up and say we should take them at their word. I don't know, if they are bluffing, what the reason for bringing Sig Hecker and his colleagues would be to Yongbyon, but we'll have to have talks to find out. I'll don t believe they are.

QUESTION: Is there any sense of disagreement between the United States and China on their assessment of whether North Korea has a uranium program as well as plutonium program?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well I think we don't have any doubt about it because of the comments that were made to us, but I know that our Chinese interlocutors from time to time have expressed the view that the North Koreans say that they don't. They put forth to us the North Korean view, as expressed to them. They haven't expressed themselves to me, the Chinese side particularly.

QUESTION: The Chinese point-of-view of the North Koreans?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: No, the Chinese put the point-of-view given to them by the North Koreans that say clearly, they don t have a HEU program. I don t say that that's the Chinese point-of-view. They are putting forward the North Korean view, as expressed to them.

QUESTION: So they are quoting them, essentially?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: They are expressing the thought that the North Koreans gave to them. Whether they are quoting exactly, I don't know.

QUESTION: You've never heard them tell you they disagree or agree with that assessment.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: No, I haven't heard them say that specifically, but I'm not going to put any words in their mouth one way or the other.

QUESTION: Is there any reason to believe that the North Korean economy may be getting a little better? John Lewis in the Post wrote a couple of days ago that he was startled, actually, by what he saw.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Some recent visitors, as I understand it, have said that they have seen a lot more stalls, etc., in the major city. Certainly in Pyongyang there appears to be a lot more activity, and further I've heard recent visitors say that they can spend any amounts of currencies there, whether it's Euros or dollars or anything else. Whether that extends to all of the country, I think, is somewhat doubtful, but clearly any activity, as a famous Republican used to say, does trickle down.

Having said that, I will call to your attention the World Food Program's appeal for a rather large amount of food, which the United States in December replied in the affirmative, for 60,000 more tons of food. So it may be better, but it's a relative thing, and if you start from such a low base, the question then is, is it getting better in time, quickly enough? I don't know the answer to that.

QUESTION: What did Dai Bingguo have to say about the state of the North Korean economy?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: He was pointing out that it was somewhat better, there appeared to be a little bit more activity, a little bit more entrepreneurship, a little more accountability in the production cycles and things of that nature, all of which would be signs that point out that the North Koreans are trying to reform their economy.

QUESTION: Was it your impression that this assessment was being given to you in order to convey the fact that China doesn't think that North Korea is on the verge of any kind of collapse, and therefore Washington shouldn't think that either?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I don't know that people in Washington are talking about collapse, that was a cottage industry around 1995 or so. It's now 2004 and I haven't seen that happen. No, I believe this was a genuine assessment. I don't believe that Vice Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo would play a game like that.

QUESTION: Could you tell us what you talked about with the Defense Minister?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, in general, I talked about his visit first of all, to the United States, which we felt was very successful. Let's face it: our military-to-military relationship had gotten off to a rocky start. It's come pretty much full cycle, where we can have the Defense Minister in a visit with Mr. Rumsfeld, and as you may know, he had a short time with our President. Just recently Dick Myers has come and had a good series of talks, and the command ship of the Seventh Fleet will soon be calling in Shanghai, the Blue Ridge.

I think that's all a sign that we re getting back on track with the military-to-military relationship. Now this is where I had expressed to the Defense Minister that I felt a bit of a dinosaur, having in 1981 been one of those who tried to put it together, the arms sales and everything else to China. So we've come full cycle again.

QUESTION: How much in dealing with China --

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Excuse me, I didn't finish, we also spoke about Taiwan. We spoke about Iraq. We spoke a little bit about our global defense posture, what it would mean both in Europe and Asia. This was to sort of set up my colleague from the Defense Department who will be coming soon, and he'll do it in more depth.

QUESTION: This is about the trade relations between the two countries. There have been some problems between the two sides in the last year. Last December, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited the U.S. and made five specific suggestions to deal with the problems in trade relations and to set up a system to deal with those problems. Has there been any progress made since then to put these words into action?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Thank you. As I understand it, and now you get me way outside my patch, as a general matter we have had progress in that in April Vice Premier Wu Yi will be going to Washington to meet, as per the agreement between President Bush and Wen Jiabao, to talk about mechanisms that will ease our trade problems. We hope at some point to have Minister Huang Ju go and speak to John Snow.

I got an assurance today, not because I'm special, but the Chinese offered me an assurance that they would rigorously abide by the criteria of the WTO, which was a good and significant thing. U.S. imports to China are up, I think because of adherence to the WTO. We've seen statements from China where are moving towards a fluctuation of the currency. So, all in all, I think we're heading on the right track. I think all those things I just mentioned are signs that we're starting to right this trade imbalance, and other things.

QUESTION: My question is sort of a function of his question which is, is there any political implication of the trade tensions in terms of how it impacts China-U.S. relations because they seem to be going smoothly, politically.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well I think that any nation who has in-depth dealings with the United States always holds their breath during a Presidential campaign in the United States. So China would not be immune to that, or Japan, or anyone else, if that's what you mean. So that's always a kind of a specter. But I would note thus far in the political campaigns, as I have viewed them, this has not been an issue.

You know, when one looks very carefully at world economies then the questions we have with China are not seen as seriously, because they are not strictly bilateral. It is a global economy. I think that is starting to sink through. And I think, likewise, the fact that those who want to rail correctly about jobs, as a general matter in the United States, have come to the conclusion that it is not necessarily the case, that jobs which are in China would naturally return to the United States. It's just not the case. It seems to me that that wisdom is getting through.

QUESTION: On the currency, were you given any kind of briefing on what they're thinking about?


QUESTION: On a timetable of when they are thinking of moving?


QUESTION: Did the EU arms embargo come up at all during your conversations? What did you say on that?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Yes it did. There was some question about our talking with Europeans about the wisdom of lifting the embargo because of our concerns about human rights.

QUESTION: Based on your conversations today with the Chinese and your analysis so far of the referendum language in Taiwan, what is your assessment of the possibility of military action by China before or after the election, or missile tests?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Do I look like an idiot? A hypothetical question will not get an answer from me.

QUESTION: It's not hypothetical.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: It is a hypothetical question. So I think that if I were to answer a question like that I could only do one thing, which is to cause trouble. My job here, and I think anyone who is sensible about this, is to bring sober-minded judgments and restraint on all sides as we try to work with wisdom as successive governments and generations have been able to do for over a generation on this question.

QUESTION: You said that you discussed the general global situation with your Chinese partners as well. What did they say about the general situation and their views about America as well, particularly about Iraq?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, on Iraq there was a question of China's eligibility for subcontracts, etc., which is something that we very much favor. There's plenty of work to be done and the Chinese firms can be very excellent subcontractors. I myself want to see if I can help that to the extent reasonable, legal, and all those matters. The general situation that I briefed on was our global defense posture. In that regard, I spoke about, as we transform our forces, the possible changes, both in Asia and in Europe, made very clear that we are a threat to no one.

Mr. Rumsfeld and the President wanted to be more agile, more flexible, and more able to respond to contingencies. Less a legacy of the cold war in terms of our presence and finally able to be much more supple in our military movements all of which is part and parcel of our defense posture review. As I say, I was very clear that no final decisions have been made because we've been involved with consultations with friends and allies around the world. I have participated in them. My colleagues both in the Defense Department and the State Department have participated and they continue.

QUESTION: You mentioned that Dai Bingguo spoke about the North Korean economy with you. On political issues, on the six-party talks, did he deliver any kind of message to you from North Korea, or give you any kind of sense of North Korea's latest thinking.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: We have had, right before the New Year, a very in depth discussion with a Chinese delegation that came to Washington, and things are just about where they left it before they came back from their seven day break.

Thank you all very much. I appreciate it.

(end transcript)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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