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Bush: Taiwan defense pledge no change in policy

President Bush during an interview with CNN's John King on Wednesday  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush on Wednesday said he would commit U.S. forces to defend Taiwan but said he hopes China and Taiwan can reconcile peacefully.

Seven previous administrations have been deliberately vague about defending Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province. But in an interview with CNN on Wednesday, Bush said his comments represented no change in policy.

Bush told ABC earlier that he would do "whatever it took" to defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack, even to the point of using U.S. troops. But in a later interview with CNN, he said those comments should not be seen as an endorsement of independence for Taiwan.

Bush talks about Taiwan and China in the first part of the interview (April 25)

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Part two of CNN's interview with Bush, in which he talks about various issues and his first 100 days (April 25)

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An analysis of the effects of Bush's statement, from CNN's Mike Chinoy (April 25)

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Former U.S. State Department spokesman Jamie Rubin says Bush is 'throw[ing] away two decades of American policy (April 25)

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CNN's Senior Asia Correspondent Mike Chinoy says President Bush is walking a tightrope

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"Our nation will help Taiwan defend itself," he said. "At the same time, we support the one-China policy, and we expect the dispute to be resolved peacefully."

A declaration independence by Taiwan "is not part of the one-China policy," he added.

A senior administration official acknowledged the president's comments Wednesday were an attempt to "try to get the words straight ... to reaffirm existing U.S. policy."

"No change was intended," this official explained. He added that the president "didn't present the whole thought" in his interview with ABC news.

U.S. officials said the Chinese embassy has not filed a formal protest "yet."

The statement followed U.S. approval of a major major sale of arms to Taiwan, which the administration said is meant to balance a Chinese missile buildup on its side of the Taiwan Strait.

China summoned U.S. Ambassador Joseph Prueher to the Foreign Ministry on Wednesday to protest the arms sale, but it had no direct comment on Bush's apparent pledge to defend Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province.

For nearly three decades, U.S. policy regarding China and Taiwan has been deliberately vague. Seven American administrations have refused to spell out what they would do in the event of hostilities between Taiwan and the Chinese mainland.

U.S. policy has backed the principle of "one China" and opposed Taiwanese independence. And while insisting on a peaceful resolution to the dispute, Washington is required by law to support Taiwan's military with arms sales.

By contrast, Bush's statement Wednesday marks the strongest and most specific commitment any U.S. president has made to Taiwan's defense. Many of his current advisers, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, are outspoken advocates of removing Washington's ambiguity when it comes to defending Taiwan.

Bush aides said the position is not new (for more on this story), citing comments the president made during his 2000 election bid.

"The United States must help Taiwan defend itself," Bush said in a debate among Republican hopefuls in March 2000. "The Chinese can figure out what that means, but that's going to mean a resolute stand on my part."

James Sasser, who served as U.S. ambassador to Beijing during part of the Clinton administration, said Bush may back away from his statement once others realize its implication -- which, he said, could include encouraging Taiwan to declare its independence.

"I think the president's going to reflect on this, and find that the Congress is going to have something to say about whether or not we want to give these sorts of assurances to Taiwan," Sasser said.

Campaign pledges face legislative test

The president also addressed several other issues.

Bush has translated a number of his campaign pledges into legislative language now up for consideration in the House and Senate -- including his plans for education reform, his tax cut proposal, and his fiscal year 2002 federal budget, which now in a House-Senate conference committee.

That conference will have to reconcile the tax cut numbers in each chamber's version of the budget -- $1.6 trillion over ten years in the House version, as per Bush's request, and $1.2 trillion in the Senate.

"The House has made its statement, and the Senate has made its statement," Bush said. Now, he added, White House staff will have to get involved enough to help the two come to an agreement.

CNN Senior White House Correspondent John King and Senior Asia Correspondent Mike Chinoy contributed to this report.

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