Mon, Nov 01, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Two unimpressive choices

With the US election tomorrow just about every media organization almost anywhere in the word has come out to say which candidate it prefers. Most interesting over the weekend was the Economist which in an editorial equally handedly scathing about the choice between George W. Bush's incompetence and Senator John Kerry's incoherence finally plumped for Kerry as the less worse choice in a miserably thin field. So which way would we vote, if we had one?

That is a tough question to answer. But the fact that the answer isn't obvious is a comment on the recent performance of the Bush administration. Some might think that to not immediately endorse Bush is blank ingratitude. After all, has he not been the most pro-Taiwan president since, well, the last George Bush?

Up to a point. But that point gets thinner the longer he has been in office. Simply contrast where the Bush administration stands now and where it stood just after George W. entered the White House. We have gone from a president who was prepared to "do whatever it takes" to protect Taiwan to a secretary of state who is prepared to prejudge the outcome of Taiwan's dispute with China -- "reunification which we all want" -- and cause irreparable damage to Taiwan's standing in the world, in defiance of the longstanding policies of his own country and his country's obligations under international law, in particular the San Francisco Treaty of Peace with Japan of 1952 and the 1933 Montevideo Convention on Rights and Duties of States.

It is hard to know what the consequences of Colin Powell's remarks this week might be. The State Department is keen to try and portray this as a slip of the tongue, and they assure us that there is in fact no change in the US position. So apparently we are being asked to believe that Powell, as the foreign minister of the world's greatest power is incompetent, and so poorly briefed about the nature of the Taiwan-China dispute that he doesn't know the difference between the words "resolution" and "reunification." And who is also so ignorant of US treaty obligations he thinks it is a matter of the US' choice, as to whether a territory is supposed to enjoy sovereignty or not.

Frankly this all seems rather implausible. Indeed Beijing thinks it so implausible that it believed Powell means just what he appeared to mean. Far from encouraging China's return to the negotiating table -- which was, remember, Powell's purpose -- his comments have only encouraged it in its belligerence.

But Powell's sellout -- it is hard to call it anything else -- is only the latest in a series of blunders. A series which began with the harsh language used by Bush himself about President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) decision to hold a referendum last December. Bush should have known that the decision had a huge domestic purpose: to introduce referendums as a means of making difficult decisions on highly controversial matters. It was, in fact, a way to make sure that the pan-blues, should they have won the presidential election, could not have made a unification deal with China over the heads of the Taiwanese people, as they had every intention of doing.

The referendum was therefore a means to maintain the status quo, not to destroy it and this paper, along with a host of other commentators, clearly pointed this out. So Bush's behavior can only be seen as both unfriendly and incompetent -- the US has no reason to want either unification or a pro-unification government in power in Taiwan. So our impression of the Bush administration, which after the "anything it takes" comments and the arms package was extremely high, has been on the slide for quite some time.

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