Washington has approved a controversial visit to the United States by Taiwan's leader even as a top American diplomat is attempting to win support from Beijing for a new defense strategy.
At a State Department briefing today, spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters the United States would give Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian a transit visa — implicitly sanctioning the leader of what Beijing views as a renegade province.
Secretary of State Colin Powell "decided on Friday afternoon that we would permit the transit by President Chen en route to and from Latin America," Boucher said.
Boucher said the transit visas were approved "on the basis of the safety, comfort and convenience of the traveler."
Sports Games and Congressional Meeting
The transit visa will allow Chen to stay in America for several days, during which he's expected to go to a baseball game, visit Wall Street, and meet dignitaries.
"The understanding on these things is that the activities would be private and unofficial, that they would be consistent with the purposes of a transit," Boucher said.
He also said he expected Chen to meet several congressional leaders: "We believe that meetings between members of Congress and foreign leaders have a positive benefit of advancing our national interest, so we would assume that some of those will take place."
On his trip to Latin America, Chen will transit through New York on May 21, and leave on May 23.
On his return to Taipei, he will transit through Houston on June 2 and leave June 3.
An Appeal to Beijing
Meanwhile, Assistant U.S. Secretary of State James Kelly arrived in Beijing today to try to sell the Chinese on President Bush's plans for a missile defense shield.
The Chinese are already critical of the president's plans, warning they might upset the international balance of power and cause a new arms race.
During a stopover in Singapore, Kelly addressed those concerns.
"Since our programs are only in formulation stage, since they will necessarily take a long period of time, and since they will be quite transparent as they are developed it seems to me that there is an opportunity for a lot of consultation among friends and China at each step of the way," he said.
"I hope that's the way it unfolds," he told reporters.
Not Operating in Isolation
Kelly was dismissive about the shadow cast on his visit by last month's spy plane incident.
"That's not what I've come to consult about but neither does it suggest that business is exactly as usual."
China has refused to release the U.S. EP-3E spy plane from Hainan Island where it landed on April 1 after colliding with a Chinese fighter jet. The crew of the aircraft was held for 11 days.
There were meetings over the spy plane at the weekend, Boucher said today, but added that there was "no real news."
However, he said the administration remained hopeful it would be returned soon.
Senior U.S. envoys have been touring the world since the beginning of the month attempting to explain and gather support for the missile defense shield.