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by Antoaneta Bezlova
(IPS) BEIJING --
Chinese President Jiang Zemin and President George W. Bush swapped greetings on the 30th anniversary of the release of the Shanghai Communique Feb. 28, the celebratory tone masked a bitter setback for China's expectations during the Bush visit to Beijing last week.
Both presidents hailed the Shanghai document as a milestone in the history of bilateral relations, which laid the foundation for the normalization of China-U.S. ties after decades of hostility.
But because of the document's intentional ambiguity, it remains a minefield for both sides.
While Beijing was hoping to use Bush's February visit here, timed to coincide with the anniversary of Richard Nixon's 1972 ground-breaking tour to circumscribe America's engagement with Taiwan, Bush acted on the contrary -- he shored up support for the democratic government of the island by promising it would come to its aid if attacked.
In the Shanghai document, signed by then President Nixon and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, the United States recognizes Taiwan as a part of China.
Although Washington consequently severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan, U.S. policy calls for China and Taiwan to reunify peacefully, without threats or use of force from Beijing.
China regards Taiwan as a renegade province and reunification between the mainland and the island remains one of the pre-eminent goals of the ruling Chinese regime. Beijing has pledged to attack the island if Taiwan declares formal independence.
Speaking at Qinghua University last week, Bush made clear the United States was indeed prepared to go into confrontation with China's military over Taiwan. He said the United States was committed to the Taiwan Relations Act and would honor its promises.
That act authorizes the United States to sell defensive weapons to Taiwan and includes a clause saying Washington would view a military assault by Beijing as a matter of great concern.
Bush spoke bluntly and his intentions, broadcast live on Chinese television, made a deep impression on Chinese public.
In contrast, his predecessor, Bill Clinton, remained deliberately ambiguous about how America would respond to a potential attack on Taiwan.
In 1998, while visiting China, Clinton went well beyond the language of Shanghai Communique and pledged to follow the "three no's" China subscribes to -- no independence for Taiwan, no "two Chinas" and no membership by Taiwan in any organization for which statehood is required.
Clinton's accommodating attitude prompted Beijing to believe that the United States would not risk the lives of American soldiers to defend the interest of small democratic Taiwan against mighty communist China.
"The reunification of China and Taiwan is one of China's core interests while protecting Taiwan cannot be regarded as one of Washington' prime interests," Ye Zicheng, a research fellow at the International Studies Institute under Beijing University, told the popular 'Southern Weekend' weekly. "Quite opposite, Taiwan occupies only a marginal place on Washington's agenda."
Ye's remarks were published on the eve of Bush's visit to Beijing last week. Since the visit however, Beijing's confidence on the Taiwan issue has been shaken.
Just a day after Bush left Beijing, Washington signaled it was considering issuing a visa to Taiwan Defense Minister Tang Yao-ming so that he can attend military talks in Florida this month. According to Taiwan reports, the talks are expected to focus on Taiwan's changing defence needs and cover sensitive weapons purchases.
Beijing objects to any visits by Taiwanese officials to any country and especially to the United States. Washington does not let Taiwanese officials visit the Untied States, but transit visas have been granted in recent months to Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian and Vice President Annette Lu.
If Washington indeed issues a visa to Tang, Beijing would regard the move as extremely provocative. It would be the first U.S. visit by a Taiwan defense minister since 1979 and it would upgrade military exchanges between Washington and Taipei.
China has demanded that the United States reduce the quality and quantity of its arms sales to Taiwan. Tang's visit would be a move in an opposite direction, as it would enable Taiwan to discuss purchases of the latest U.S. military technology.
April, Washington announced the most comprehensive arms package to Taipei since 1992, one that includes destroyers, submarines and submarine-hunting aircraft. That deal, which outraged Beijing, followed a two-year U.S. review of Taiwan's air force and navy.
While none of Beijing's anxiety over the U.S. stance on Taiwan was evident in the greeting sent by Jiang to Bush on Feb. 27, China sent a ominous warning to Taiwan not to do anything provocative.
Beijing reacted angrily to a Taipei decision this week to rename its representative offices abroad, saying the island would have to "pay for it."
Media reports, confirmed by Taiwan's Foreign Ministry, have said that Taiwan is preparing to rename the island's four liaison offices in the United States from "Taipei Economic and Cultural Office" to "Taiwan Representative Office."
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said on Feb. 26 that renaming the offices -- especially if they were to reflect a separate identity for the island -- would amount to "gradual independence."
"It can only increase tension between the two sides and they will "pay for it," he said.
March 4, 2002 (http://albionmonitor.net) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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