Cohen Calls on China, Taiwan to Reduce Tension
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
HONG KONG, March 10, 2000 Defense Secretary William S. Cohen urged China and Taiwan to end their exchange of rhetoric and reconcile peacefully.
"Both sides should lower the rhetoric, lower the tensions, and then try to work this out in a peaceful fashion rather than one of intimidation and confrontation," Cohen told reporters March 10 while en route to Hong Kong, his first stop on a 10-day trip to Asia.
Taiwanese separatist leaders called publicly for formal independence last year. They later eased off when China threatened possible military action to enforce its position that Taiwan is a rebel province it will eventually regain.
The United States sees Taiwan as part of China, but it is committed to ensuring the island has the means to defend itself. Tensions have escalated on both sides in light of Taiwan's March 18 presidential election. Cohen said he hopes the tension will subside after the election.
The United States expects Taiwan to "pursue negotiations peacefully and not seek independence, which we do not support," he said. "We look to China to continue discussions and negotiations, but not to try to bring about any kind of reconciliation on the basis of force."
The secretary said he hopes to carry this message to China early this summer.
In Hong Kong, Cohen said he wanted to see how the policy of 'one China, two systems' is working. He said the United States is committed to helping Hong Kong preserve its unique way of life and to protecting its high degree of autonomy. China took control of the former British crown colony in July 1997.
About 50,000 Americans reside in Hong Kong, one of Asia's busiest financial hubs and seaports. About 1,100 American companies are based here, representing a direct investment of $21 billion.
Cohen said he plans to discuss U.S. military visits to Hong Kong. U.S. ships recently renewed ship visits, which had been banned following the accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy during NATO Operation Allied Force last year.
The oiler USNS Tippecanoe called on Hong Kong in September, followed by the USS Stennis carrier task force in December, according to a senior U.S. official. The Chinese foreign ministry is now approving U.S. port call requests, he said.
Cohen said he also planned to stress the need for stringent export controls to prevent contraband from going in or out of China through Hong Kong. "Counterdrug, counterterrorism, proliferation issues -- those will all be discussed," he said.