Barely a month has passed since Taiwan's president, Chen Shui-bian, provoked Beijing by talking of buying more weapons, limiting trade with the mainland and drafting a new constitution. Now he has stirred controversy again. In public remarks the day before the Lunar New Year, Mr Chen said now was the time to 'seriously consider' abolishing the National Unification Council, joining the United Nations under the name of 'Taiwan' and crafting a new constitution. His remarks have been driven by a desire to shore up support among his traditional pro-independence supporters in Taiwan. But the provocative comments needlessly heighten cross-strait tensions. And, perhaps of more immediate concern to Mr Chen, they have worried the US government. Taiwanese officials have tried to play down the significance of the remarks, insisting Mr Chen is merely contemplating these steps rather than taking them. Indeed, the lawyer-turned-politician chose his words carefully. Technically, therefore, Mr Chen's recent statements do not amount to breaching the undertakings on preserving the status quo that he made on becoming president in 2000. But they come very close. Indeed, Mr Chen has previously pledged not to dismantle the reunification council. His latest comments will only strengthen the perception that he aims to push Taiwan in the direction of independence. The United States quickly moved to distance itself from this antagonistic position. The State Department's spokesman reiterated the US government's one-China policy and urged Beijing and Taipei to establish substantive cross-strait dialogue. The department's senior adviser for Far East and Pacific affairs, James Keith, has since added that the US wants Mr Chen's government to adhere to the status quo. In a rejoinder to Taipei's claim that it had consulted Washington over Mr Chen's position, Mr Keith also said the US wanted no further surprises from Taipei. Washington's reaction is unlikely to dissuade Mr Chen from making provocative comments in the future. In the wake of his Democratic Progressive Party's heavy defeat in last year's local elections, he has sought to reach out to the party's hardcore advocates of independence. But it is to be hoped that Mr Chen will not put his personal interests or those of his party before those of the island - and of everyone who has an interest in cross-strait peace. The current state of cross-strait relations is a legacy of history that will take time to resolve. There is a need for dialogue and for both sides to refrain from doing anything which might inflame the situation. Peace has been the prime engine of the region's growth over the past 60 years. Any ill-advised move by Taiwan to change the status quo would jeopardise regional stability.