President Chen Shui-bian
But Chen's tour will bring forth the usual vitriolic eruptions, agitated complaints and angry threats from China. The heat and the uproar generated by Beijing is hard for outsiders to understand -- about as difficult as the "technical" problems faced by Taiwan's leaders in trying to make their travel arrangements.
Chen's proposed trip has also drawn objections from within Taiwan. Critics complain that Taiwan is in bad political and economic shape and that China's top officials will be holding their annual Beidaihe
It is true that Taiwan is going through a rough patch right now. But a new situation could arise at any time and if Chen must wait until stability reigns, then he may never be able to leave Taiwan.
The key questions about the timing of Chen's trip should be whether the details of his visits are being properly arranged with the host countries; whether the channels of communication are open and smooth; and whether any emergencies that might crop up while he is away can be properly handled.
The second reason brought up by critics is that Chen's tour will inevitably lead to foreign aid issues. They question whether it is worthwhile to scatter foreign aid about at a time when Taiwan is in financial straits. However, Chen's trip will not necessarily increase foreign aid expenditures since the foreign aid budget is already set, as is the mechanism to handle it. Taiwan's current foreign aid programs are all project-based and are not disbursed in cash. Instead, Taiwan provides the technology and material for the projects, keeping the actual expenditures lower than on the books.
Another issue is who Chen will delegate his presidential powers to during his absence. Because Chen and the Vice President Annette Lu
Meanwhile, Taiwan is facing a precarious situation on the diplomatic front. Its allies in Latin America and Africa are clustered closely together. A change in one country may bring about a domino effect on the others. Relations with Panama are already showing signs of instability. China is also planning to hold a cooperative forum with African nations in October. Eight of Taiwan's allies will be attending the forum, including the three West African countries on Chen's itinerary. At a time when the two sides across the Taiwan Strait are conducting an all-out diplomatic offensive, Taiwan will only have reason to regret it later if it does not play its presidential card now.
From the international viewpoint, the diplomatic war of attrition across the Strait is stupid and both sides are the poorer for it. However, China is still ruthlessly trying to curb Taiwan's international space. Taiwan is now in a "step back just once and you'll be left without so much as a burial site" situation.
Chen can only stand up straight, gird his loins and embark on what will surely be a hard ride.
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