After three days of silence, the Chinese government has rejected the offer of Taiwan's president, Chen Shui-bian, to make a fresh start on cross-strait discussions, saying Chen cannot be trusted.
The dismissive conclusion, in a statement issued Wednesday by the government's Taiwan Affairs Office, reflected a long-standing assessment here that, no matter what he might say at a given moment, Chen remains determined to lead the self-governing island to formal independence. It showed that, at least for now, the newly consolidated leadership of President Hu Jintao intends to stick to China's insistence that talks with Taiwan are possible only if Chen forswears his goal of independence.
"Chen Shui-bian declared that he intended to ease the tense atmosphere and the confrontation across the Taiwan Strait, yet he stubbornly insisted on his separatist stand that there is one country on each side of the strait," said Zhang Mingqing, a spokesman for the Taiwan Affairs Office.
"He furthermore denied that Taiwan is part of China," added Zhang, who read from a prepared text and declined to elaborate. "He boldly slandered and viciously attacked the mainland. He intentionally worsened the relationship between the two sides of the strait. This exposed his lies."
In a National Day speech Sunday, Chen suggested that China under Hu's leadership might prove more flexible in dealing with Taiwan. He proposed the resumption of long-suspended talks on the basis of a 1992 understanding that there is only one China, but that the governments in Beijing and Taipei have different ideas of what that means.
Chen's gesture was regarded as a concession in Taiwan, which is in the midst of a campaign for parliamentary elections scheduled for Dec. 11. Previously, Chen and his Democratic Progressive Party had rejected such diplomatic ambiguity, insisting that Taiwan is a separate country, a stance that drew criticism for what the opposition Nationalist Party has called an unduly provocative attitude toward China.
The United States, which is Taiwan's biggest supporter, immediately welcomed Chen's proposal. Darla Jordan, a State Department spokeswoman, said it "offers some creative ideas for reducing tensions and resuming the cross-strait dialogue."
The official Chinese statement said the government has always been ready to return to discussions on the basis of the 1992 understanding, reiterated in a policy paper last May, but that Taiwan has refused to endorse it. Chen's offer, it said, was a sleight of hand, seeking to impress his electorate but avoid real acknowledgment that "there is only one China in the world and the mainland and that Taiwan belongs to the one China."
The 1992 understanding, reached at a meeting in Hong Kong, led to a second meeting in Singapore and hopes of progress on the long dispute over Taiwan's status. But the discussions soon foundered over how explicitly Taiwan was endorsing the "one China" principle, which officials in Beijing consider a starting point for any talks.
Contacts, even on practical steps such as airline flights, have been frozen since 1999.