Fri, Nov 05, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Bush must close ranks with Taipei

By Li Thian-hok 李天福

So President George W. Bush has won the US presidential election. In contrast to past presidential elections, the main issues this year were the "war on terror" and the difficult situation in Iraq.

Concerned voters turned out in unprecedented numbers all across the country. In some places voters waited patiently in line for more than 10 hours to vote. The election demonstrated that American democracy is robust and functional. It also showed that the country is evenly divided on the wisdom of going to war in Iraq and on how well the US is doing in trying to stabilize Iraq and extricate US forces without leaving chaos behind.

However, now that a clear winner has emerged, the country must unite behind Bush and support him in carrying out the difficult tasks ahead for the nation.

Bush should not take his victory as vindication of his decision to invade Iraq and his administration's conduct of the war. For the sake of the US and the world, he should move away from the politics of fear, away from the excessive obsession with the "war on terror" and the go-it-alone doctrine of preemption. He needs to address domestic problems such as jobs, the budget and the trade deficit, social security and healthcare, as well as diplomatic matters such as the nuclear programs of North Korea and Iran and looming conflict in the Taiwan Strait.

It is unusual for an incumbent president in war time to win such a victory. The experience should make Bush humble. He should not hesitate to adopt ideas proposed by Senator John Kerry which make sense -- for example, the need to restore good relations with America's European allies and to rebuild the US' image as a magnanimous beacon of freedom. Bush should consider Kerry's suggestion to engage North Korea in bilateral negotiations, instead of relying solely on six-nation talks. China has its own agenda on the Korean peninsula and its cooperation is limited and motivated by self-interest.

On Taiwan, US Secretary of State Colin Powell's Oct. 25 statements in Beijing have created grave problems for the future of Taiwan and therefore US geostrategic interests in East Asia. Powell declared that it is firm US policy not to regard Taiwan as a sovereign nation (in contravention of the reality that Taiwan is an effective, self-governing state with people, territory, government and the capacity to deal with other nations), and that interested parties all seek "reunification." The second statement contains egregious errors too numerous to analyze in this essay.

Despite the vague, half-hearted clarification of Powell's remarks and the reiteration of former US president Ronald Reagan's six assurances by the State Department, US-Taiwan relations have been severely damaged.

First, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government has been trying very hard over the past several months to pass the budget for purchasing a US$18 billion arms package offered by the Bush administration.

Taiwan's opposition parties are now firmly opposing the budget on the grounds that such arms purchases are now longer necessary since the US goal is peaceful unification of Taiwan with China. Failure to purchase the arms package would make Taiwan vulnerable to annexation by China through military coercion.

Second, contrary to Chinese propaganda, President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) government has not moved toward independence, even though a great majority of the Taiwanese would favor such an outcome in the absence of China's military threat, because they overwhelmingly wish to preserve their hard-won democracy. Instead, Chen has made incremental, unilateral concessions to China ever since his election in 2000. In fact, a substantial segment of the DPP favors a compromise settlement with China, giving up Taiwan's sovereignty in return for peace. Powell's statements may encourage this wing of the DPP to seek unilateral surrender of Taiwan's de facto independent status by promoting direct links, faster cultural and economic integration with China, leading eventually to the political integration of Taiwan. The annexation of Taiwan would irreparably damage the US-Japan military alliance and cause a chain reaction leading to Chinese hegemony in East Asia.

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