Alarm in Asia after election of Taiwan's new leader


The electoral triumph on Saturday of Mr Chen Shui-bian, whose party advocates independence from China, and the disappearance from the scene of the Nationalist Party, which has ruled Taiwan for half a century, have caused some alarm throughout the Asia Pacific region.

The US, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore have all urged restraint on both sides. The US envoy to the UN, Mr Richard Holbrook, is expected to call for calm when he meets Chinese officials in Beijing today, and US National Security Adviser, Mr Sandy Berger, will follow on his heels to deliver assurances that Washington will not change its policy of support for one China.

In the first official reaction from Beijing, the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, China's cabinet, said: "We are listening to the words and watching the actions of Taiwan's new leader and waiting expectantly to see which direction he will take cross-Straits relations."

It said it would consider dialogue with anyone who acknowledges the one China principle - which Mr Chen does not. On Wednesday, China's Prime Minister, Mr Zhu Rongji, without mentioning his name, warned Taiwan not to elect Mr Chen and said China was prepared to shed blood to return the island to the motherland.

In Taipei, Mr Chen reached out to his political rivals yesterday, pleading for co-operation to help him heal a politically divided island and win over a bureaucracy run by Nationalist cadres. "I believe that not only will the political situation be stable, but there will also be a peaceful transfer of power," Mr Chen told reporters.

He is expected to ask his crosstrait adviser, Nobel laureate Mr Lee Yuan-tseh, to head a new cabinet and build consensus with other parties for talks with China.

President Clinton said on Saturday that the election of Mr Chen as Taiwanese President created a "fresh opportunity" for a peaceful dialogue between the two sides. Mr Chen takes office on May 20th.

Taiwan's central bank said yesterday the island's economic fundamentals were sound and urged the public not to panic. The Taiwan dollar slumped last week amid China's threats of war. The central bank renewed its pledge to intervene to maintain order in the foreign exchange market.

Reuters adds: A key US Republican Party figure yesterday urged the Clinton administration to take a tougher stance on China in defence of Taiwan. House of Representatives Majority Whip, Mr Tom DeLay, said the US must defend Taiwan, especially in the face of any threat of military attack from China.

"If Tom DeLay was in charge, he would not allow China to constantly be a bully," the Texas Representative said. "China needs a very strong message that we will stand by our American values, we will support democratic nations," he said.