China rebuffs Bush over Taiwan

China said on Wednesday it would not tolerate any interference over Taiwan, after United States President George Bush praised the island’s democracy and urged Beijing to open dialogue with Taipei.

“Taiwan is a part of China, an inseparable part of China, and China does not brook any interference in its internal affairs,” Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing told Agence France Presse on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific summit in South Korea.

Li was reacting to comments Bush was to make later on Wednesday in Japan holding up Taiwan—which Beijing considers a renegade province—as a society that had successfully “moved from repression to democracy”.

The Chinese foreign minister later held talks with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the US envoy to the talks on North Korea nuclear weapons programme, Christopher Hill.

During their 15-minute meeting, Li and Rice discussed Taiwan and the issue of arms sales but did not explicitly mention Bush’s comments, said a US state department official.

The United States, which is obliged by law to offer Taiwan a means of self-defence if its security is threatened, is the leading arms supplier to the island despite switching diplomatic recognition to Beijing in 1979.

Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian pressed in September for a $10-billion arms deal to beef up the island’s defence capability against rival China.

“Modern Taiwan is free and democratic and prosperous. By embracing freedom at all levels, Taiwan has delivered prosperity to its people and created a free and democratic Chinese society,” Bush said in remarks prepared for delivery.

But he stressed that Washington’s “One China” policy was unchanged and emphasised “there should be no unilateral attempts to change the status quo by either side”.

Bush’s unusually strong comments came during an Asian tour in which the president was to visit Beijing for a brief summit with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

The two will meet before then on Friday when they join 19 other leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in the South Korean port of Busan.

“The people of China want more freedom to express themselves, to worship without state control, and to print Bibles and other sacred texts without fear of punishment. The efforts of China’s people to improve their society should be welcomed as part of China’s development,” said Bush.

“By meeting the legitimate demands of its citizens for freedom and openness, China’s leaders can help their country grow into a modern, prosperous, and confident nation,” he said.

Bush highlighted the North Korea talks, for which China has played host on five occasions, as an area of Sino-US cooperation.

“The six-party talks have produced commitments to rid the Korean peninsula of nuclear weapons.
These commitments must be implemented. That means a comprehensive diplomatic effort from all the countries involved, backed by firm resolve,” he said.

He also said he would press Hu to follow through on pledges made at their last meeting in September to crack down on knock-offs of trademarked US goods and address China’s exploding trade surplus with the United States.

“I welcomed those commitments, just as I welcomed China’s announcement in July that it would implement a flexible, market-based exchange system for its currency,” said Bush. “But China needs to take action.”

Taiwanese presidents have been barred from joining Apec summits because of objections from China and an economic official was dispatched instead to Busan.

China and Taiwan have been governed separately since the end of a civil war in 1949, but Beijing still considers the island part of its territory, awaiting reunification by force if necessary. - AFP

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