Mon, Oct 04, 2004 - Page 8 News List

US-Taiwan ties need patching up

By Edward Chen 陳一新

The Donald Keyser case has all the qualities of the classic Japanese film Rashomon, in which four different people give four radically different accounts of the same events.

Everyone involved in the Keyser case is telling a different story, and the flap has generated hubbub in all sectors of society.

The Taiwan government is now in damage control mode, looking for the source of the incident and the "spy" behind it.

But if it doesn't handle this case in an appropriate manner, it could do irreparable harm to Taiwan-US relations.

There are four respects in which the Keyser affair is likely to affect Taiwan. First, Keyser, who was in line to be the next chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan, will now certainly not be taking up that post.

It is questionable whether another nominee will be as favorable to Taiwan.

Second, revelations of a "national security" leak will make US officials less forthcoming and more secretive in their regular meetings with Taiwanese officials and academics at Taiwan's US representative office.

Third, the official counterpart of Taiwan's National Security Bureau (NSB) is the CIA, but on the insistence of high officials in the US government, the matter is being handled by the State Department.

As the case has affected regular diplomatic and intelligence-gathering operations, it is possible that there will be friction between the diplomatic and national security units within Taiwan's representative office in the US.

Fourth, in the short term at least, the morale of intelligence agents working with the US will take a blow, and their freedom of action may also be more constrained.

In the investigation of the Keyser case, Taiwan may be able to minimize the damage to Taiwan-US relations and trust if it faces the matter truthfully, cooperates fully with the US, rewards and fairly punishes those involved and -- most of all -- maintains clear lines of diplomatic communication.

Even as national security and foreign affairs agencies try to limit the damage, the government should act on the idea that "honesty is the best policy."

But ultimately, compared to the issues that will impact mutual trust between the two countries, these are only peripheral matters.

September of last year, when Keyser made his secret visit to Taiwan, was a time when that trust had sharply deteriorated. Certainly, when President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) took office in 2000 and announced in 2002 "one country on each side of the Strait," relations had already begun to deteriorate.

But it was the announcement of the referendum question last June that pushed the relationship to a crisis point.

The situation got so bad that US President George Bush criticized Chen, albeit without referring to him by name, for wishing to change the status quo.

From that time relations between the US, China and Taiwan have been tense. Key events include Chen's many post-election press conferences proposing to amend the Constitution through a referendum, visits by US Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice to China in April and July respectively, repeated warnings to Taiwan from James Kelly, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and James Moriarty of the National Security Council, China's proposal to formulate a "unification" law, its Taiwan Affairs Office's May 17 declaration [to "put a resolute check on Taiwan independence activities"] and rumors of Bush's remarks expressing criticism of Chen.

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