Ever since he took office, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) has not only made tremendous efforts to establish frank communication with his US counterpart, but has also been able to convince the US State Department that he is a pragmatic leader who would not recklessly pursue de jure independence.
The improvement in unofficial ties between the US and Taiwan, as evidenced by last year's deal on substantial arms sales to Taipei, the improved treatment of Taiwan's leaders making transit stops in the US and the cooperation between the two sides in the US-led war against terror, reflect a solid friendship as well as the pursuit of common interests. Most importantly, the relatively balanced approach that US President George W. Bush has adopted on cross-strait relations, in comparison with his predecessor, has also played a pivotal role.
Some have characterized the Bush administration's policy toward Taiwan and China as "strategic ambiguity with clear tactics." They mean that the US still upholds its "one China" policy and calls for the two sides of the Taiwan Strait to solve their dispute by peaceful means. In order to maintain a balanced approach toward Taipei and Beijing, however, Washington has gradually informed both Taiwan and China of its bottom line.
Bush reiterated that bottom line last month when he empha-sized the need for the US to adhere to the Taiwan Relations Act and to preserve its commitment to the people of Taiwan. He also reminded the two sides of the Strait not to provoke each other. The safeguarding of Tai-wan's democracy is the primary concern of the Bush administration, for which Taipei's ability to defend itself in the face of Bei-jing's military intimidation is also of the utmost importance.
China's growing military capability and the threat to Taiwan posed by its missiles are obviously of tremendous concern to Washington. Providing Taiwan with the weapons it needs to defend itself is therefore in line with Washington's strategic thinking in Asia.
Increasing exchanges between the militaries of the US and Tai-wan are one way for the two sides to deepen their acquaintance with each other. Minister of Defense Tang Yao-ming (湯曜明) is on a historic mission in the US, attending a private but highly political meeting. The US has rebuffed China's objections to the visit, saying it is consistent with US policy.
Tang's visit is a milestone in US-Taiwan relations. The significance of the State Department's decision to give him the green light lies largely in the fact that this represents a change in US policy toward Taiwan. His visit is the first official one by a Minister of National Defense since the switch in diplomatic recognition in 1979. The Florida conference is also the first high-level meeting attended by high-level security officials from both countries.
The government has a duty to explore every possibility to increase links between Taiwan and the rest of the world. Taiwan's strategic position vis a vis security considerations deserves more international attention than it gets, especially after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the US.
The US has redirected its foreign policy by strengthening its relations with its allies. This is a chance for Taiwan to become part of the US-led, global anti-terrorist campaign. Doing so would not only enable Taiwan to join the security alliance in the Asia-Pacific region but would also consolidate Taiwan's partnership with Washington.