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Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Iol Za > China-US ties strained over Taiwan... again

August 03 2004 at 11:00AM
By John Ruwitch

Beijing - China was elated last December when United States President George Bush, flanked in Washington by visiting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, bluntly warned Taiwan's leaders not to upset the status quo.

Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian appeared bent on steering the island down the road to independence, talking up plans to hold a contentious referendum alongside elections in March.

Eight months later, the warm glow is gone.

Beijing is taking no solace from the White House's words of backing of a "one-China" policy and opposition to independence for Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province and an inalienable part of China.

"The sense of desperation is real and seems to have crept up the food chain to the very top," said Alan Wachman, an expert on China and Taiwan at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

Chen has been re-elected, the referendum went ahead as planned - although voters rejected it - and Washington has been a disappointment from Beijing's perspective, leaving mainland leaders feeling the United States may be an unreliable partner in efforts to keep Taiwan in check.

China's generals and officials have renewed warnings of an armed clash with Taiwan by 2008 if Chen slinks further towards independence. President Hu Jintao personally called Bush at the weekend to warn him not to sell arms to Taiwan.

The mainland now presents Taiwan as basically the only issue worth discussing with the United States. It has practically hijacked every meeting with senior US officials in Beijing.

"Especially since the Taiwan election, Chinese leaders are more and more dissatisfied with the American position," said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Beijing's Renmin University.

"On the one hand, the US has gradually, in Chinese eyes, reduced pressure on Chen Shui-bian, and it has warmed up relations with him," he said.

Analysts point to several snubs after Chen's re-election to a second four-year term.

May, the month Chen was inaugurated, was particularly rough.

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