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U.S. feels Beijing's wrath over Chen visit

Taiwan Chen
Chen waves to supporters outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art  

BEIJING -- China blasted the United States on Wednesday for allowing Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian to visit New York, saying it "grossly interfered" with China's internal affairs.

In its sharpest reaction yet to Chen's stopover visit, Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Zhou Wenzhong summoned U.S. charge d'affaires, Michael Marine, to lodge a strong protest, the official Xinhua news agency said.

China accused the U.S. of giving Chen a platform to promote independence for Taiwan.

Beijing sees the island as a renegade province that broke away amid civil war in 1949 and should be reunited with the mainland by force if necessary.

Xinhua said Zhou had made a "solemn representation" and stated that Chen's visit "seriously dishonoured the three Sino-U.S. joint communiques" which formed the basis of America's formal ties with China.

Zhou said that Washington had "stirred the arrogance of the splittist force who sought Taiwan's 'independence,"' apparently referring to Chen.

"Chen has engaged in a series of open activities in the United States, and took the opportunity to wantonly peddle his splittism," Zhou added.

China has spurned Chen's offers to begin a dialogue between the two sides, insisting the Taiwanese government must first embrace the "one China" principle.

Marked departure

During his two-day stopover Chen met 22 members of the U.S. Congress as well as New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani who said he discussed economic relations with the visiting president.

When China's President Jiang Zemin visited New York in 1997, Giuliani refused to see him.

Chen also met privately with former Secretary of State Casper Weinberger, who he described as an old friend.

He also toured the New York Stock Exchange and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Salvador Chen
Children in El Salvador prepare for Chen's visit  

The range of activities and permission to meet members of Congress mark a departure from the practice of the previous U.S. administrations, which set tight restrictions on what visiting Taiwan leaders could do.

"President Chen's visit represents an incremental step forward in American-Taiwan relations," Reuters quoted Rep. Robert Wexler, a Florida Democrat as sayng.

"This should not be seen as antagonistic to China. It is simply a maturing of our relationship with Taiwan."

China's displeasure

But Chen's stopover, which coincides with a visit by the Dalai Lama to the United States, has triggered angry words from China.

"China has always opposed all forms of official contacts with Taiwan by countries with which we have diplomatic relations," Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhu Bangzhao said.

"This act violates the commitments that the U.S. side has made. This act will inevitably harm China-U.S. relations," Zhu said.

The last time a Taiwanese leader traveled to the United States was when then President Lee Teng Hui made a private visit to Cornell University in upstate New York.

Beijing was so angry that it briefly downgraded ties with Washington, and froze what was then warming semi-official relations with the Taipei government.

China considers Taiwan a rebel province, and has vowed to 'bring it back into the fold' at all costs.

Chen is scheduled to leave New York for a five-nation Latin American tour on Wednesday.

He returns to the United States for a second stopover in Houston, Texas before returning home to Taiwan in early June.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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