Agence France Press

White House congratulates Taiwan president on win, seeks stability

Friday, March 26 2004

President Chen WASHINGTON (AFP) - The White House congratulated Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian after he was officially declared winner in his bitter reelection battle which had sparked clashes and warnings from China.

President George W. Bush (news - web sites)'s office stressed the need for peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and urged Beijing and Taipei to pursue dialogue and refrain from unilateral steps that would alter Taiwan's status.

While the United States is a key ally of Taiwan and has pledged to defend it if comes under attack, Washington respects the one-China policy in which Beijing defines the island as a part of China.

Chen, considered by China to be a dangerous separatist, was officially declared victor by the island's election body on Friday as opposition supporters clashed with riot police, storming a government building to try to block the move.

Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said in a statement that the White House "congratulates Mr Chen on his victory" and rejected calls for violence. While the White House recognized there were pending legal challenges to the results of the March 20 elections, Taiwan's people should be applauded for embracing established legal mechanisms and rejecting extra-legal options to resolve their differences, he said. "We reject calls for violence, which threaten the very democratic principles to which we and the people of Taiwan are committed," McClellan said. The United States is Taiwan's biggest ally and arms supplier.

Chen was first declared winner last Saturday in the reelection by fewer than 30,000 votes over his sole challenger, Lien Chan, leader of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT), but the result was disputed by the KMT.

It sparked days of protests that culminated in the storming of the offices of the island's main election body in a failed attempt to block an official declaration.

On Friday, Chen's winning result was posted on an Central Election Commission notice board, officially declaring him victor.

Simultaneously, following the clashes, China warned that it would not stand by and watch if the island descended into turmoil.

Chen's success is seen as a blow to China, which believes he will use his second four-year term to take the island off its southeast coast closer to formal independence. Chen in 2000 ended 51 years of continuous KMT rule over the island, which China claims as part of its territory despite a split 55 years ago at the end of China's civil war.

Beijing has previously said it would invade if the island declares independence or descends into chaos.

McClellan said that the maintenance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and the welfare of the people of Taiwan remained of "profound importance to the United States." To advance these goals, he said, the United States would fulfill its obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act, which underlines Washington's one-China policy and reaffirms the US position on Taiwan's security. "It falls to Taiwan and Beijing to build the essential foundations for peace and stability by pursuing dialogue through all available means and refraining from unilateral steps that would alter Taiwan's status," McClellan said.