Taiwan's Chen seen in diplomatic victory
TAIPEI, May 12: Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian returns home from a Latin American visit today after surprise stops in Libya and Indonesia that gave him a modest diplomatic victory over China but drew words of caution from the United States.
As Chen criss-crossed the globe, US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick told a congressional hearing this week that Taiwan ''will keeping hitting into a wall'' if it kept testing the ''one China'' policy under which Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.
''We want to be supportive of Taiwan while we're not encouraging those that try to move toward independence,'' said the State Department's number two diplomat who is charge of a new US strategic dialogue with China.
''Because let me be very clear: independence means war,'' said Zoellick, who defended the administration against criticism by US lawmakers for treating Chen in a ''disgraceful'' way by offering to let his plane refuel in remote Alaska or Hawaii while on his way to and from Latin America instead of stopping over in New York which he had previously done.
China, which has claimed Taiwan as its own since their split in 1949 when Communists defeated the Nationalists in a civil war, has vowed to attack the self-ruled democratic island if it formally declares independence.
China is opposed to countries with which it has diplomatic elations -- such as Libya and Indonesia -- playing host to Chen as part of a campaign to isolate Taiwan, which still styles itself as the Republic of China.
Chen turned down the US stopover offer and accused China of pressuring the United States but had no harsh words for Taiwan's main arms supplier and major trading partner.
He kept his transit destinations a secret until his arrivals to avoid interference from China, which was strongly dissatisfied with Libya and warned of a negative impact to bilateral ties.
It has made no comment on the Indonesia stopover as yet.
Chen had originally been scheduled to fly home via Abu Dhabi.
Chen's nine-day visit took him to Paraguay and Costa Rica.
His stopovers in Libya, where he met family members of leader Muammar Gaddafi, and on the Indonesian island of Batam on his way home were hailed by some newspapers as a diplomatic victory.
The top US envoy in Taiwan played down any impact on bilateral relations, saying Washington was looking to the future.
''We have had our disagreements, as close friends inevitably do. President Chen's recent trip to Latin America in which he chose not to transit the US is a case in point,'' Stephen Young, director of the American Institute in Taiwan said at a business association luncheon earlier in the week.
''But such issues can never be allowed to distract us from our enduring common interests.''