Sat, Dec 14, 2002 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Political goodwill a fine line to walk

American Institute in Taipei Director Douglas Paal visited Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) on Thursday to congratulate Ma on his re-election. This was consistent with the established practice of AIT directors and no cause to make a fuss. But, as the AIT director, Paal's words naturally carry a lot of weight since what he says is presumed to be representative of the US government's stance.

According to Ma, Paal said that uncertainties in cross-strait relations create inconveniences for American businesspeople in Taiwan who also do business in China. Ma said Paal told him the number of American Chamber of Commerce Taipei members is dropping. He reportedly told Ma that if cross-strait contacts were more convenient, foreign businesses would be more willing to stay.

In view of Taiwan's precarious international status, the more foreign business interests here, the better. So why are foreign businesspeople leaving? It seems reasonable to interpret Paal's remarks as encouraging and supporting direct links. Of course, that kind of position coming from the AIT director is understandable. But are Paal's comments also representative of the US government's stance on direct links? If so, then the question becomes what is the US willing to offer to help direct links become a reality.

The government has been extremely cautious about opening direct links because of national security concerns. It must give priority to the lives of the people and the nation's survival. This is something surely Washington can understand, given its commitment and determination to combat terrorism at home and abroad despite an economic downturn. Paal was certainly right when he said, during a recent speech on the impact of the Sept. 11 attack on US policies, that a secure and confident Taiwan will be more able to to engage in political interaction and dialogues with China.

Taiwan's problem is simply that it does not feel confident and secure enough to open up direct links. So, if either or both the US and Beijing, at Washington's behest, can give Taiwan even more confidence and sense of security through either additional promises or substantive actions, thing will more than likely be entirely different. Until then, Taiwan won't feel ready.

However, the government must also shoulder responsibility for the departure of foreign businesses. As much as one hates to admit it, the biggest vulnerability of President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) administration is its handling of the economy. There has yet to be any meaningful action on the government's part in this regard. Who can blame businesses for leaving?

But what are we to make of Ma's reporting of his talk with Paal? Traditionally the content of such closed-door meetings is not disclosed. Ma broke protocol by doing so. One has to wonder why? Was it perhaps because Paal's comments -- as reported by Ma -- closely fit with the mayor's own agenda? There has been much made in the past week of Ma's rising star in the KMT and his possible presidential ambitions. Perhaps he would do well to remember that diplomacy is a key element of the nation's top job and that includes knowing when to talk and when not to. After all, Paal, like his predecessors, must walk a fine line about what they can say publicly about Taiwan, about China and about direct links. AIT has its own spokesperson -- it doesn't need another in Taipei.

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