TAIPEI, Feb 22 (Reuters) Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian, keen to shake off China's claim of sovereignty, ignored US pleas to retain a policy council on unification which he said should be scrapped, newspapers today reported.
Chen told US Congressman Rob Simmons that the National Unification Council and 15-year-old guidelines on unification with China were ''absurd products of an absurd era''.
Chen's remarks followed newspaper reports that he had snubbed a special US envoy, refusing to go back on his decision to scrap the council and the guidelines.
''The National Unification Guidelines and the National Unification Council certainly violate the principle of popular sovereignty,'' Chen told the Connecticut congressman who was in Taiwan to promote a special package of US arms, including eight diesel-electric submarines.
''It deprives Taiwan people's rights to freely decide on cross-Strait relations and the future direction of our country,'' Chen said in comments broadcast on cable news network TVBS.
The United States switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979 and recognises the mainland as China's sole legitimate government the ''one-China'' policy but in a deliberately ambiguous piece of foreign policy it is also obliged by law to help Taiwan defend itself.
Taiwan newspapers said White House official Dennis Wilder secretly visited the island on Tuesday last week to express US concerns over Chen's plan.
Simmons said he has no knowledge of the visit and declined to say whether Chen had upset the delicate status quo across the Taiwan Strait.
Instead, he warned of China's growing military threat.
''People of Taiwan must understand the cost of defence is substantial,'' Simmons said in a speech. ''The US will not stand for those who do not stand for themselves.'' China has vowed to attack Taiwan if the island formally declares statehood. The two sides split at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949 when the defeated Nationalists fled into exile on the island.
Chen said last month that it was time to consider scrapping the guidelines and the council, which was set up in 1990 and was formerly the island's top policy-making body on the question of unification.
The council has been dormant since Chen took office in 2000, ending five decades of Nationalist Party rule.
If Chen dissolved the council and the guidelines, he would break a promise made in his 2000 inauguration speech and underscore Beijing's suspicions that he is pushing for independence.
China's top official on Taiwan called the plan ''a dangerous sign of escalation of Taiwan separatists' activities'', the official Xinhua news agency said, echoing Beijing's previous rhetoric dubbing Chen a ''troublemaker'' and ''saboteur'' of peace and stability in Asia.
REUTERS SB RK1430