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Another US diplomat to meet Taiwan's Chen - paper

By Staff
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TAIPEI, Feb 26 (Reuters) A former senior official of the Bush Administration will visit Taiwan in yet another effort by Washington to persuade President Chen Shui-bian to retain a policy council on unification with China, a local newspaper said.

The United Daily News said former US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage would meet Chen and spell out consequences of the controversial decision when he visits.

It was not clear whether Armitage would arrive before February 28, when Chen is expected to make a formal announcement, it said.

Chen, keen to shake off China's claim of sovereignty over the island, has said the the National Unification Council and 15-year-old guidelines on unification were ''absurd products of an absurd era'' and should be scrapped.

His plan has angered Beijing and alarmed Washington.

Chen has reportedly snubbed a special US envoy, who visited earlier this month, refusing to go back on his decision to disband the council.

The council has been dormant since Chen took office in 2000 and ended five decades of Nationalist Party rule.

But if Chen dissolved the council and the guidelines, he would break a promise he made in his 2000 inauguration speech and underscore Beijing's suspicions he is pushing for independence.

Beijing 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.

Washington, which switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979 but remains the island's main arms supplier, reiterated its opposition to moves that could upset delicate ties between China and Taiwan.

REUTERS PR BS0934

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