After winning re-election, US President George W. Bush has started reshuffling his administration. Earlier this week, he nominated National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice to replace Secretary of State Colin Powell, who is held in high regard internationally but has proved incompatible with other team members due to his mild style. It is generally believed that, under Rice's leadership, the new decision-making team will reshuffle the State Department to eliminate opposition and carry out Bush's hawkish policies.
At the moment, Rice should review the State Department's China policy and handle multilateral relations in East Asia with caution. Moreover, she should adjust the methods employed by Powell, who has made excessive concessions to China over the past six months, and resume the global strategic arrangement adopted at the beginning of Bush's first term.
When Bush came to power in 2000, China was defined as a strategic competitor. Washington was aware that Beijing was developing its global military arrangements to control more important energy resources, seriously threatening the US' advantage in dominating the world's energy security. China also repeatedly tested the US' bottom line with its military actions. As a result, the Bush administration made cooperation with Japan the core of its East Asia policy, expanding the US-Japan Security Treaty to the protection of neighboring countries. This led to an improvement in Taiwan's position. In its early stages, this policy effectively maintained the balance in the East Asian region, so that Washington would not favor either side in the China-US-Japan and Taiwan-China-US relationships.
But the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks changed the Bush administration's global strategic thinking. For the sake of US homeland security and in order to carry out a global terrorist hunt, the US worked hard to gain Beijing's support. This caused the US' East Asia strategy to gradually lose its footing, and Beijing's new leadership took advantage of the change to marginalize Taiwan's position in US policy.
While the Bush team was occupied with putting together a winning campaign this year, the State Department seemed to go its own way, frequently offering goodwill gestures to China and North Korea and even expressing opinions concerning the China-Taiwan relationship that went beyond the administration's bottom line by calling for peaceful cross-strait "unification" and saying that Taiwan was not a sovereign state.
Increased opposition to the arms procurement budget, the louder voices of pro-Beijing unification figures in Taiwan and the recent appearance of a Chinese submarine off the coast of Japan are disruptive to the regional stability which Bush sought to create when he first took office. Taiwan, Japan and other countries in the region have become concerned about the deteriorating state of stability.
An important goal for Bush in reshuffling his administration would be to resolve the long-standing battle between the State Department, White House and Pentagon. More importantly, Bush needs to redirect the US' policy in Asia, where it seems to have lost its direction to such an extent that it was hurting its allies in order to make goodwill gestures to its strategic competitor.
The main forum for the US to re-establish order in East Asia will be on the sidelines of the APEC summit, where Bush will have the opportunity of speaking individually with many Asian leaders. We hope that Bush will make the best use of this opportunity to warn its competitor while re-emphasizing its commitments to allies like Japan and Taiwan.