By Spy Uganda Correspondent
China today recalled its Ambassador for consultations in Beijing, asserting that Washington changed its policy toward China when it allowed President Lee Teng-hui of Taiwan to make a private visit to the United States last week.
The Ambassador, Li Daoyu, requested an urgent meeting at the State Department today to report his Government’s decision. The Ambassador informed Lynn Davis, an Under Secretary of State and the senior State Department official here today, that he had been instructed to return home to protest what he called a change in American policy toward China, a senior State Department official said.
Mr. Li did not say that his Government planned to downgrade relations formally, but rather that he was returning to Beijing for consultations.
A senior State Department official said Mr. Li said the American decision to allow Mr. Lee’s visit violated the historical understanding between the United States and China, encroached on China’s sovereignty and interfered in its internal affairs.
Before Mr. Lee’s visit, in which he attended a reunion at his alma mater, Cornell University, no President of Taiwan, not even the United States’ onetime World War II ally, Chiang Kai-shek, had set foot on American soil. The United States agreed to break off all official ties with Taiwan in 1979, when Washington established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China.
The Ambassador’s recall is the latest and most serious reprisal against the United States for its decision to alter 16 years of official American policy and allow the leader of Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province, to visit the United States.
China had denounced the trip and demanded that it be canceled, but President Clinton, in the face of overwhelming Congressional support for the visit, decided to allow Mr. Lee to come.
The Chinese decision comes as relations between the two countries have deteriorated in the last several months over differences on human rights, weapons proliferation, trade and now Taiwan. It signals a halt, if not an end, to the Clinton Administration’s policy of “comprehensive engagement” that was supposed to bring China and the United States together through high-level exchanges intended to embrace rather than isolate the Beijing Government.
Since his tour of duty was nearing its end, Mr. Li may not return and China may decide to leave the post vacant for some time, senior State Department officials said.
American officials were struggling to interpret the Chinese decision, although China specialists inside the Administration said they were heartened by the fact that the Chinese did not announce a formal downgrading in relations, as they did with the Dutch Government after it sold submarines to Taiwan in the early 1980’s.
At the State Department, the spokesman, Nicholas Burns, said: “We very much regret that the Chinese Government has chosen to withdraw its envoy from Washington, and we hope that his absence from Washington will be temporary. We continue to seek a constructive relationship with a strong, stable and open China.”
Frustrated over the state of relations between the United States and China, J. Stapleton Roy, the American Ambassador, will cut short his tour of duty before his replacement arrives and return home early next week. President Clinton has chosen James Sasser, the former former Democratic Senator from Tennessee, as the new American Ambassador, but China has yet to grant “agreement,” the formal approval all governments give for such appointments.