Gates reassures Hu on Taiwan issue

Beijing, November 6:

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates today assured China’s President Hu Jintao that the US government is “categorically” opposed to any moves by Taiwan towards independence.

Gates met with Hu in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People after two days of talks — characterised by both parties as “candid but friendly” — that raised US concerns about China’s rapid military build-up and Iran’s nuclear programme.

“I restated our position that we’re categorically opposed to any efforts by anyone to unilaterally change the status quo,” Gates told reporters after his talks with Hu. “I basically reiterated that the US government has been quite clear in its messages to Taiwan not to change the status quo,” he said, citing Chinese fears of “de jure independence” for Taiwan. Taiwan and China split in 1949 after a civil war, and while the island has since governed itself, Beijing considers it part of its own territory awaiting reunification.

Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian is pushing for a referendum next year on launching a fresh bid for UN membership using the name Taiwan, rather than the official “Republic of China”.

This has touched a raw nerve with China, which considers the move a provocative step.