This week Chen promised not to declare independence for the remainder of his term, which is kind of like me vowing never to dunk a basketball for the rest of my life.

In an interview with the Associated Press after his meeting with Burghardt, Chen dismissed reports that he was planning to declare independence.

He said such reports were Chinese propaganda designed to influence US decision-making on the matter and to scare Washington into intervening in next year’s elections and referendums.

Meanwhile, the AIT confirmed yesterday that Burghardt had met with Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and with Frank Hsieh (謝長廷), Ma’s Democratic Progressive Party counterpart.

The AIT refused to reveal when the meetings had taken place or what was on the agenda.

Sources said Burghardt met with Ma shortly after he arrived in Taiwan on Saturday at Ma’s campaign office. Ma’s running mate Vincent Siew (蕭萬長), KMT Legislator Su Chi (蘇起) also attended the meeting, they said.

“We talked for a long time, touching on a wide number of topics. The talks proceeded in a friendly atmosphere, but I can’t tell you details on the basis of the principle of good faith,” Su said.

Burghardt met with Minister of Foreign Affairs James Huang (黃志芳) yesterday afternoon. Huang told journalists afterwards that although Taiwan and the US had different opinions on some political issues, the overall US-Taiwan relationship remains sound.

“There is still lot of room for communication between the two sides,” Huang said.

Hsieh thanked Burghardt for the comments the following day:

Promising to mend relations with the US if elected, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) yesterday thanked American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Chair-man Raymond Burghardt for his concern over the impact the UN referendum could have on the nation’s next leader.

“His remarks were warm-hearted and well-intentioned,” Hsieh said, adding that he agreed with a lot of what Burghardt had said.

Burghardt, who met with President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) at the Presidential Office on Monday, warned Chen not to make any decisions during the remainder of his term in office that would cause problems for his successor.

Chen was interviewed by AP on the independence thing:

Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian pledged Monday that before he steps down in May 2008 he will not declare formal independence _ a move China has long warned would spark a war.

“Some say I will do something unexpected during the election season, including declaring independence,” the unpredictable Taiwanese leader said in an interview with The Associated Press. “This is completely not the case.”

Chen made the comments immediately after holding a two-hour meeting with Ray Burghardt, the most senior U.S. envoy responsible for Taiwan relations.

Washington has been concerned that a planned referendum in March on whether the island should join the United Nations could be a precursor to a declaration of formal independence.

It seems incredible that people could think Chen would declare independence with the legislature controlled by the pro-China parties, no support for an immediate declaration among the populace, poor relations with his most important ally, and major elections coming up. But if it is reassurance the US wants, by all means, give them that.

Burghardt met with Ma Ying-jeou on Saturday when he arrived in Taiwan, as well as with Ma’s running mate Vincent Siew, and KMT legislator Su Chi, head of the National Policy Foundation (which generates propaganda for the KMT). The connection is interesting, for the European Chamber of Commerce invited Su Chi to speak at their luncheon on Jan 18 about the legislative elections. They also invited Shen Fu-hsiung, the DPP turncoat, to speak. Now you know why the ECCT’s understanding of Taiwan is so deficient, and why so many foreigners in the business community repeat KMT talking points as if they were pearls of cogent wisdom.

Hsieh, facing the Japanese press in Taipei on Monday ahead of his upcoming trip to Tokyo, promised that he would never turn from his pro-independence views, but would seek dialogue with China. Hsieh and Ma have very similar policies — Ma is following Lee Teng-hui’s program of co-opting DPP economic and political strategies, something that made Lee popular in the 1990s. Both Hsieh and Ma advocate a free trade agreement with Japan, but Hsieh also wants some kind of security arrangement with Tokyo. Stephen Yates, the former Cheney aide, remarked on Saturday that Japan sees China’s move against Taiwan as a dry run for the kind of tactics that will one day be deployed against Japan.