(CNSNews.com) - President Bush called Friday for democracies in the Asia-Pacific region to work together to support democratic values and help those working for free societies.
In a speech in Sydney, Bush listed Taiwan among the region's democracies. In contrast, he expressed the hope that when China hosts the 2008 Olympic Games, it would use the opportunity to demonstrate "a commitment to greater openness and tolerance."
Yet it is the government of democratic Taiwan, not communist China, that is expressing discontent about the news from Sydney, where the leaders of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) nations have gathered for a weekend meeting.
On Thursday, Chinese President Hu Jintao met with Bush and, according to a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, asked the U.S. leader to join him in warning Taiwan against "separatist activities."
"[Hu] stressed that this year and next year is going to be a highly sensitive and possibly dangerous period of the situation in the Taiwan Strait," said spokesman Liu Jianchao.
Taiwan's independence-minded president, Chen Shui-bian, is pressing ahead with a plan to hold a referendum next March on whether the island should be allowed to join the United Nations under the name "Taiwan."
(Under it official name, Republic of China, Taiwan held the "China" seat at the U.N. until 1971, when the General Assembly handed the seat instead to the People's Republic of China. Washington cut ties with Taiwan in 1979 in favor of relations with Beijing, although legislation passed that same year commits the U.S. to help the island defend itself.)
The Bush administration is opposed to the referendum plan -- a point made by Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte last week and reiterated in Sydney by deputy U.S. national security adviser James Jeffrey, who told reporters after the Bush-Hu talks, "we are concerned very much about this step that Taiwan has undertaken."
Jeffrey said the U.S. would "continue to exert our good influence on the Taiwanese to see if we can change their position."
In comments through a translator, Hu said that Bush, during their talks, had "explicitly stated the ... consistent U.S. position of opposing any changes to the status quo" across the Taiwan Strait.
In Taipei, Foreign Minister James Huang reacted by saying that it is China that is threatening the status quo, by deploying more than 1,000 short-range missiles aimed at the island.
He also pointed to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's recent refusal to consider an application for membership from Taiwan, on the basis that U.N. policy holds that Taiwan is part of China. Huang blamed Ban's interpretation on Chinese pressure.
APEC is one of the few international forums open to Taiwanese membership. China tolerates its involvement under the name "Chinese Taipei" because APEC groups "economies" rather than countries. But at Beijing's insistence, Taiwan's president is not allowed to attend APEC leaders' meetings, so Chen is represented in Sydney by a leading Taiwanese businessman.
Several hours after the Bush-Hu meeting, Chen took part by video in a discussion hosted by the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.
He defended the referendum plan and Taiwan's bid to join the U.N., stressing that it was doing so in the capacity of "a new member-state" -- not seeking to win back the seat which it lost to the PRC in 1971.
"Our bid to join the United Nations with the name of 'Taiwan' is not just a simple struggle or contest between a democratic, free Taiwan and a communist, authoritarian China," Chen said. "It is also a fight between justice and evil within the international community."
A public opinion poll released by the Taiwan Thinktank this week showed strong support for the island's U.N. bid despite international opposition.
Sixty-seven percent of respondents supported the governments efforts to push the membership issue, 75 percent said they believe that "Taiwan is a sovereign and independent state" and 76 percent rejected Beijing's claim that Taiwan is part of the PRC.
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