US welcomes result despite concerns


President Clinton has welcomed the election of Mr Chen Shui-bian as President of Taiwan as a "fresh opportunity" for dialogue between the offshore island and mainland China but there are US concerns about the future of an already strained relationship.

Congratulating Mr Chen, the President said that "the United States strongly supports such dialogue and is committed to promoting peace, stability and prosperity in the region". The election of Mr Chen as the first non-Nationalist Party President "clearly demonstrates the strength and vitality of Taiwan's democracy", Mr Clinton said.

He is at present on a week-long trip to India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Washington also sees Mr Chen's victory as support for his pledge to end corruption under the Nationalist Party, which has been in power since 1949, as much as a vote for his pro-independence stance. Officials also point out that Mr Chen had softened this stance during his campaign.

Washington had become concerned during the election campaign at the heightened rhetoric from Chinese leaders in Beijing at the prospect that Mr Chen might win. The Chinese Prime Minister, Mr Zhu Rongii, had warned that Mr Chen's election might even lead to war.

Last Thursday, the US Under-Secretary of State, Mr Thomas Pickering, had called in the Chinese ambassador in Washington to urge China to moderate its language.

The US still remembers how during the 1996 election in Taiwan it was obliged to send aircraft carriers to patrol the seas between China and Taiwan to ease tensions caused by the firing of Chinese missiles towards the island.

Mr Clinton in his statement on Saturday also said that the US "will continue to conduct close unofficial ties with the people on Taiwan through the American Institute in Taiwan in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act and our one-China policy."

This is a reminder that the US is committed to help Taiwan in the event of threats or an actual attack by China but the extent of the commitment has always been left deliberately imprecise. It has been called "strategic ambiguity".

US officials hope that the election of Mr Chen could eventually help ease the difficult relationship between Taiwan and Beijing.