Press Roundtable with Assistant Sec. Roth (1)
Transcript: Bangkok Press Roundtable with Assistant Secretary Roth
(Says Beijing being pragmatic over Taiwan elections) (7130)
Dialogue between China and Taiwan seems a bit more likely now that Beijing is in a "pragmatic mode" and willing to take a "wait-and-see attitude" toward developments in Taiwan, according to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Stanley Roth.
Roth gave his assessment of China-Taiwan relations and his recent visit to China with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke during a March 24 briefing for reporters. Roth added that he would be returning to China with U.S. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger.
Roth and Holbrooke stressed to Beijing the Clinton Administration's adherence to a "one China" policy, but also emphasized the need for a peaceful resolution of the issues between Mainland China and Taiwan.
"We indicated our support, as always, for a one China policy, but also for seeing a peaceful resolution of the situation," Roth told reporters.
Roth sought to downplay the importance of talk during the Taiwan elections by President-elect Chen Shui-bian of Taiwanese independence.
"There's a big difference in being a candidate and being in office," Roth reminded the reporters.
"Those of you who recall Jimmy Carter's campaign commitments on withdrawing troops from Korea vs. President Carter's policy decisions on that issue will take the point," Roth said.
"This is a very intense period of time for Taiwan as the new officials have to learn their briefs," he said.
"The critical point," Roth said, "is that Chen Shui-bian has already indicated during the election campaign several times publicly that he was no longer advocating independence, except under the extreme scenario of Taiwan being invaded or attacked, and that he was not supporting a referendum to put this issue to the people."
While happy to see cross-Strait tensions easing, Roth was quick to add that the United States is "not an intermediary.
"We are not a negotiator; we don't have specific proposals; we are not carrying any proposals along those lines," he stressed.
"What we are doing is basically advocating restraint on both sides in terms of don't make threats, no military action, look at this from the perspective of how you can get cross-Strait dialogue back on track," Roth said.
While unwilling to speculate on the whether the Beijing regime would actually use force against Taiwan, Roth noted that China "has made statements indicating that while it would prefer not to use force, there are circumstances where it would use force.
"One has to assume that that is a serious proposition," the American diplomat said.
"We have been equally serious making it clear that we believe there has to be peaceful resolution and no use of force," Roth said.
Turning to the Korean peninsula, Roth cautioned against too much optimism, but added, "we are moving ahead.
"Ambassador (Wendy) Sherman testified before the Congress this week that we hope to have negotiations soon both on missile issues and on KEDO related issues, so that's positive," Roth said.
"There has been a lot of movement on the peninsula -- all of it made possible by President Kim Dae Jung's engagement, or 'Sunshine Policy' as he calls it," Roth said.
Similarly, Roth cited the efforts of the democratically elected government of Indonesia to peacefully resolve various ethnic and sectarian violence.
He compared Indonesia's situation today, where the press is now free and most political prisoners have been released, with the Philippines in the 1980s when democratic rule was restored there.
The authoritarian regime in Rangoon was also a concern for U.S. policy-makers both because of on-going human rights abuses and drug traffic out of that country, Roth said. "Obviously we are very concerned about the narcotics traffic out of Burma.
"This is an area where we share concerns with Thailand which is indeed a victim," he added.
Following is a transcript of the roundtable discussion:
Press Roundtable with
Assistant Secretary of State Stanley Roth
Friday, March 24, 2000
Moderator: Welcome to all of you who braved the storm this morning. I want to welcome Assistant Secretary Stanley Roth of the U.S. Department of State. He's traveling in the region on various missions; I'm sure he will enlighten us about those missions. I turn this over to Mr. Roth since I think he'd like to make a few comments before we go to questions. Sir.
Roth: I am here in the middle of a two-week trip out into the region. I'm basically doing two different delegations. I accompanied Ambassador Holbrooke to Japan and China, and then I am meeting up with National Security Advisor Sandy Berger to go back to China, and I will go on to Japan to brief about the trip while they go home.
In between those two cabinet-level delegations there's a gap and so I've come back to South East Asia. I was in Manila yesterday where I met the President, the Foreign Minister, the Defense Minister and members of the Senate. We went over a range of bilateral issues and some of the regional foreign policy issues with Foreign Minister Siazon. I thought it would be useful to come to Bangkok as well. We are getting into preparations for the ARF season; with the senior issues meeting in May and the working group even before that in April. I wanted to go over a whole host of those issues. In addition, I've had a fairly regular dialogue with both the Foreign Minister and the Deputy Foreign Minister on Cambodia, Burma, Indonesia, East Timor, where of course Thailand is playing a great role with forces on the ground. I thought it would be useful to go over the regional set of issues as well.
Of course, I'm prepared to brief on the China trip and the current China/Taiwan situation. On the Holbrooke trip, there has been a lot of commentary on it in the press; I don't know what I can add to that. Essentially, the trip was scheduled long before the results of the election in Taiwan. The initial purpose of the trip was Ambassador Holbrooke's specific mandate which is the United Nations. He is leading an initiative on United Nations reform--both in terms of Security Council reform and assessments for dues and peacekeeping assessments. Clearly Japan and China are two of the major players. Japan desires to have a permanent seat on the Security Council, being a major contributor to the UN. Regarding China, having grown enormously since the UN dues scale was done in 1974, there is some need for a revisit of that assessment. So we did spend the first of our two days in China talking UN issues for four and a half hours with several senior Chinese leaders.
The next day, however, was focused much more on the bilateral relationship and on cross-Strait issues with particular attention on Taiwan. I believe Ambassador Holbrooke has characterized it with the right words-that they were constructive talks; that we found the Chinese to be in a pragmatic mode. The phrase the leaders used over and over was taking a wait-and-see attitude towards events on Taiwan, to see how the new authorities shape up, how they form a cabinet, what statements they make, what they do. It was extremely early; we were there two-three days after the elections so there was not a whole lot of detail, as you can imagine. It was more at the level of principle on our part. We, of course, made representations about our very strong hope to seek a renewal of cross-Strait dialogue as soon as possible, and the reduction of tensions that could flow from it. We indicated our support, as always, for a one China policy, but also for seeing a peaceful resolution of the situation. So Ambassador Holbrooke re-emphasized the three pillars of U.S. policy. That was the primary focus of the second day. Rather than spend a lot of time giving you details that you may not want, why don't we just open it up to your questions so we have a considerable chunk of time for whatever is of interest to you.
Q: How do you see things unfolding in Taiwan and the Taiwan Straits?
Roth: I think the point I would emphasize is that what's critical is the behavior on each side of the Strait. There's an enormous amount of work to be done. Chen Shui-bian and his party, the DPP, have never been in power. The KMT had power, I think I was told, 88 consecutive years. Therefore, there's the whole question of forming the cabinet. There's the question of forming policies. There's a big difference in being a candidate and being in office. Those of you who recall Jimmy Carter's campaign commitments on withdrawing troops from Korea vs. President Carter's policy decisions on that issue will take the point. So this is a very intense period of time for Taiwan as the new officials have to learn their briefs. It's an extremely important period of time in terms of what they say. We have been impressed by the moderation thus far of the statements, even beginning with the election night acceptance speech-the emphasis on cross-Strait dialogue, the invitation for senior Chinese leaders to come was encouraging.
There have been a series of steps since then. The resumption, or rather the initiation of direct links between some of the small offshore islands and the mainland was, I think, quite encouraging. The statement that one China can be discussed as an issue, is a very big leap of faith for the DPP, and it follows up on the campaign where the DPP formally moved away from independence and referendum, changing their historic positions. So there are many steps indicating that the new authorities are thinking carefully about the implications of what they say and do. But nevertheless we have to see what they do and say, as well as what the current government under (Lee Teng-hui ) does in the period between now and the inauguration on May 20th.
On the other side of the Strait, on the mainland, obviously it's critical what they do and what they don't do. In terms of what they say, thus far, I haven't read this morning's press so I'm in a little bit of danger, but I haven't seen any belligerent statements or new threats or warnings coming out. Instead they have been reiterating the wait-and-see line. There have been no indications of military buildup on either side of the Strait or any activity that looks in any way threatening. So far, so good. The question is: can there be a process where the two sides can get into dialogue or prepare for dialogue as they move toward the inauguration.
Q: What is the American role in terms of the recent conflict? Since Mr. Chen said he will declare Taiwan's independence-have you come here just to try to pacify everything over there? Or what did you talk to the Chinese mainland and the Taiwan people about?
Roth: First, let me just say that the critical point is that Chen Shui-bian has already indicated during the election campaign several times publicly that he was no longer advocating independence, except under the extreme scenario of Taiwan being invaded or attacked, and that he was not supporting a referendum to put this issue to the people. So you should not assume that the United States is trying to make him say this. He's already done this, and this is not a question of trying to impose a decision on them. In any case, it is our long-standing position, not just of this administration but of every administration since normalization in 1979, that the cross-Strait dialogue is between the parties. We are not an intermediary; we are not a negotiator; we don't have specific proposals; we are not carrying any proposals along those lines. What we are doing is basically advocating restraint on both sides in terms of don't make threats, no military action, look at this from the perspective of how you can get cross-Strait dialogue back on track. Because ultimately that is the best path toward reducing tensions and towards promoting peace and stability. That's really the message.
I should also point out that both trips, Ambassador Holbrooke's and National Security Advisor Berger's, are not Taiwan-specific trips. These are not emergency missions being sent to deal with the situation. Mr. Holbrooke's was long-planned, as I said, on the UN reform issue; and Mr. Berger's is designed to encompass the entire range of U.S.-China relations--the bilateral relationship. Obviously, this issue is high on the Chinese agenda and will be discussed, but other issues will be discussed as well.
Q: While in Beijing, did you talk at all about the Chinese release of the white paper, its timing, considering the departure of the high-level U.S. delegation just before its release, and (their having) no sense of what was coming up? Or was there a sense on the U.S. side that it was coming out?
Roth: I think it's well understood, and we've said it on multiple occasions, that it was not well-known that it was coming up. We had no idea. It was briefly discussed, but this is not a new point. We have already indicated to China that we felt that this was not a good way to proceed. We would have appreciated not having this surprise, but there's no information to report to you. It was not a central point in our meeting.
Q: What new developments can we expect from the ARF meeting this year?
Roth: Well, it's unfortunate that I haven't had my meetings here yet, and since Thailand is the chair, I'm hoping to learn a lot from Foreign Minister Surin. But I think that what I hope is that they build on the very real progress that was made last year under Singapore's chairmanship, when they were able to have very detailed, prolonged exchanges on real regional security problems. It wasn't just the exercise of coming up with a brief communique; which had one sentence about each issue. Last year there was a very good discussion of the situation on the Korean peninsula; there was a lively discussion of the South China Seas and the issue of the Spratleys. It was not all so-called "ARF-speak"-it wasn't about technical issues and how you move from confidence-building measures to preventive diplomacy. A lot of that work is done by the senior officials in the working groups, and the ministerial meeting when the foreign ministers come can usually discuss the major policy issues themselves.
Q: What about Burma?
I would expect Burma to be discussed, it has been in the past several years. Possibly Indonesia, although this year it seems to be much calmer than last year so I'm not sure that it will be quite as much of a focus as last year, when East Timor was just about to go into elections and there was a lot of discussion. I would expect less of that this year.
Q: You don't expect any institutionalization of the mechanism in any way?
Roth: I can't give you a good answer on that yet, because I haven't had my talks yet.
Q: Would the U.S. like that?
Roth: I think the point is that this is a process. None of us have any expectations that the ARF in the next year or two is going to become either an alliance or a decision-making body. This is not NATO; this is not the CSCE. This is a consensus organization, and it is far too early to assume that this is an organization that is going to be able to broker a dispute or impose a solution on any particular conflict. At the same time, it is a place where the issues can be discussed. There have been various proposals about how ASEAN and the ARF could play a larger role. There's been talk about having an ASEAN Troika that might be used to address problems. But again, after I have my meetings here I might have a more intelligent answer for you.
Q: So who are you going to meet while you're here?
Roth: The Foreign Minister and the Deputy Foreign Minister will be the two primary meetings.
Q: Is that today?
Q: Since U.S. expressed that this is the right time for Taiwan and China to get talking about conflict issues in the past, how will the U.S. use its pressure to get the two to talk together, and is that linked to Chinese membership in WTO?
Roth: I think the important point is that each party has indicated that it wants the cross-Strait talks to resume. This is something that is a matter of enabling them to reach the terms that will allow the negotiations to go forward. And that's got to be between them. It's not up to the United States to pressure them to do this. That's not part of our approach. Certainly there is no linkage between our strong support, as you know, for China's accession to the WTO and Permanent Normal Trading Relations and re-starting the cross-Strait dialogue. What is clear, is that there is an impact if there is no peace and stability in the Strait. If there is trouble, that can affect the vote in Congress. I think that's obvious. So that's not linkage, but that's reality.
Q: Do you sense much movement now on the Korean Peninsula?
Roth: This is one of the most interesting periods that I've seen in the 20 years that I've been working on North Korean issues. Over roughly the past year (don't hold me to the time period) we've seen a real change in North Korean behavior. The so called "hermit kingdom" has clearly decided not to be a hermit. It has established diplomatic relations with Italy, with Brunei; has asked Australia to re-open its Embassy; and it has started serious talks with Japan about normalization of relations. It will be sending, we hope, a high level visitor to the United States; it is talking to the Philippines about possibly establishing relations. I'm not sure that's a comprehensive list, but it's at least an illustrative list, and it shows a very different pattern of behavior than in the past; which suggests that North Korea has decided that it needs to end its isolation in order to, presumably, help its economy recover and to prosper. In that context, we have seen significant progress on some of the security issues when you compare it to a year, year and a half ago. If I had been sitting at this table at that point, we would have been talking about the suspect site. We would have been talking about whether their KEDO Nuclear Agreed Framework was going to unravel. We would have been talking about missile tests and whether there was going to be another one. Since then, we have gotten access to the suspect site. We will get another visit to it as well, to ensure that nothing has changed over the past year. We have gotten the moratorium, at least for now, on long-range missile tests. KEDO has been revitalized through the Perry process and the extraordinary cooperation between the United States, Japan and Korea. So there has been a great deal of progress on the reduction of tensions compared to where we were at that point.
Having said all that, one can never be sure that there still isn't a military buildup along the DMZ. The history of the relationship is such that there are, unfortunately, incidents that you can never quite predict, and you can never know when they are going to occur. So I'm not telling you that peace is at hand. But when you look at the trend line, I think that that is encouraging. We are moving ahead. Ambassador Sherman testified before the Congress this week that we hope to have negotiations soon both on missile issues and on KEDO related issues, so that's positive. So there has been a lot of movement on the peninsula -- all of it made possible by President Kim Dae Jung's engagement, or "Sunshine Policy" as he calls it.
Q: Return to the Taiwan issue. I want to make sure again, I want to hear from you again. Will China's threats to Taiwan one day become a reality?
Roth: Now, you're asking me to speak for the Chinese government, which I can't do.
Q: What is your point of view?
Roth: Obviously, from the perspective of a United States government official, the answer is "I hope not." At the same time, one can't preclude the possibility. China has made statements indicating that while it would prefer not to use force, there are circumstances where it would use force. One has to assume that that is a serious proposition. We have been equally serious making it clear that we believe there has to be peaceful resolution and no use of force.
Q: How do you prepare yourself in terms of some kind of invasion in the future?
Roth: I'm not going to talk about military contingency planning.
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