Associated Press

Foreign minister Mark Chen bashes his Australian counterpart

Saturday August 21, 2004

TAIPEI (AP) - Taiwanese Foreign Minister Mark Chen bashed his Australian counterpart, alleging that he acted cowardly during a recent Beijing visit by not being critical enough of China's military threats against this island, local media reported Saturday.

Chen said Foreign Minister Alexander Downer's weak-kneed behavior in Beijing this week "did not befit a courageous politician in this democratic era."

Chen also said Downer's comments made it seem like he had gone to Beijing "to present tribute to his sovereign," according to the Apple Daily and the China Times.

After meeting with Chinese leaders in Beijing, Downer told reporters on Tuesday that he assured the Chinese that Australia has been urging Taiwan "not to move down the path of proclaiming independence, that this would create very substantial upheaval in the region."

The Taiwanese foreign minister accused Downer of failing to balance his comments, saying he should have noted that China's military threats against Taiwan were also a serious source of instability in Asia.

"You at least have to mention both sides, then we'll be able to accept it," Chen was quoted as saying.

Chen added: "They [China] have 500 missiles aimed at Taiwan -- but then [Downer] visits China and is afraid to say anything. The US has a bit of courage at least and is willing to tell China to its face that the `Taiwan issue' needs to be resolved peacefully and that China should not use military force," he said.

"But then [Downer] visits China and states that Taiwan should not provoke the situation. He does not even mention the fact that China is creating regional instability with its threats and intimidation."

He said: "Tension across the Taiwan Strait is not our fault. The ball is in their court. How they choose to pass this ball to us is their responsibility, not ours. It is not Taiwan that causes cross-strait tension but China, which is making preparations to attack us."

At a news conference on Monday, Downer did warn Taiwan against independence, while urging China not to resort to force.

Beijing claims that Taiwan -- which was occupied by the losing side of the Chinese Civil War in 1949 -- is Chinese territory. Taiwan maintains that the PRC never ruled Taiwan, and that the island is a free and democratic country, which deserves international recognition.

Chinese leaders have repeatedly threatened to attack the island, and have increased their sabre rattling during the past few months.

Downer also created an uproar in Australia by telling reporters during his Beijing trip that Australia would not automatically help the United States if U.S. forces joined a war between China and Taiwan. Under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, the United States has pledged to help defend the island if China attacks.

Under a U.S.-Australian defense treaty signed after World War II, the two countries agreed to assist each other in the event of an attack or conflict with a third country.