Taiwanese president maintains status quo with China

Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian said Tuesday he would honor a pledge to maintain the status quo in relations with Beijing , amid American concerns over his scrapping of a government body dedicated to unification with rival China . Chen's Feb. 27 announcement that the 15-year-old National Unification Council would cease to function provoked outrage in Beijing and concern in Washington , which fears being drawn into hostilities in the volatile Taiwan Strait .

At a meeting with Stephen Young, the new top U.S. envoy to Taiwan , Chen said he would adhere to his promise to the American administration not to change the status quo with China .

"There will be no change in the commitments that I've made to the U.S. government, to President (George W.) Bush," Chen said. "Taiwan-U.S. relations will ... become closer ever, and there is no room for the possibility of any so-called accidents," he said.

Chen also said he was committed to reducing tension in the area. "The Taiwan government, people and myself would like to be the responsible contributors ... in safeguarding peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait ," he said.

China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949. Beijing regards the self-governing island as part of its territory and has threatened to use force if Taiwan takes steps to formalize its de facto independence. At a meeting Monday with Taiwanese Foreign Minister James Huang, Young said he would seek clarification from Chen on whether the Taiwanese leader had dismantled the largely symbolic council or whether he had merely frozen its functions.

Young said it was his impression that the council had been put "in abeyance," but that he needed to clarify the matter with Chen. Last week, Chen said Taiwan and the United States conducted intensive negotiations on the terminology he would use to announce the termination of the council.

He said Washington favored the word "freeze" apparently because it would restrain Chinese displeasure and lessen the chances of friction in the Taiwan Strait but that he himself decided on a Chinese word that means terminate. In criticizing Chen's decision, Chinese officials said it violated a pledge Chen gave in 2000 not to change the status quo in relations between Taiwan and the mainland, reports the AP.

N.U.