As US National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice has been nominated to succeed Secretary of State Colin Powell, attention in Taipei has focused on the extent to which the [Washington administration's] new Asian team would form and the impact it might have on the future cross-strait situation.
Some argue that Powell was simply a victim of the power struggle between the moderate and the so-called "neo-conservative" camp within the Bush administration. Nominating Rice to fill Powell's shoes represents an intensification of hawkish forces, as well as the notion of "unilateralism" in President George W. Bush's second term.
Others worry that Powell's resignation will worsen US-Taiwan relations because of the dissolution of his Asian team, which has long been considered to be friendly to Taiwan.
The fact is, any speculation on whether the rotation of people dealing in Asian affairs in the new Bush Cabinet will bring about a huge change of policy toward the region would be an exaggeration. From a global and regional strategic perspective, the second Bush team will stick with the old path and pursue an even tougher campaign against international terrorism. When it comes to its influence in Asia, the new team will put North Korea on top of its priorities.
For both policies, Washington will need Beijing to cooperate.
But where does Taiwan fit into such a transforming international landscape? The US stated quite clearly in its "Six Assurances" of 1982 that it would not be a mediator between Taiwan and China, and this policy has not changed. However, the role of the mediator could be indirect. Since the growing Taiwanese consciousness has met with China's closed-door policy, Washington has no choice but to play a more positive and constructive role in securing peace and stability across the Strait.
Therefore, initiating the resumption of cross-strait dialogue constitutes the most urgent task for Rice's new Asian team. Since President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) has suggested the establishment of a peace and stability framework, as well as a non-military buffer zone in the Taiwan Strait, the Bush administration should utilize every possible channel to encourage leaders from Beijing to go to the negotiation table. The meeting between Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) at the APEC summit this week is the most appropriate timing for Washington to ring the bell.
As far as Taipei-Washington relations are concerned, issues relating to Taiwan's holding of a referendum and the proposed enactment of a new constitution over the past 10 months has stirred up misunderstandings and tensions in the bilateral relationship.
Bush's explicit statement last December that "the US opposes any unilateral change to the status quo of the Taiwan Strait initiated by the Taiwan leader" was considered a huge setback for Chen. Avoiding a repeat of such a public statement at the Bush-Hu summit will require tremendous effort from the Chen administration. To win international support, Chen should elaborate on the significance of making the peace and stability framework a lot more predictable and manageable.
The international community should work together to monitor and facilitate cross-strait dialogue to reduce the possibility of surprises and miscalculations. By it nature, this framework echoes international anticipation of a constructive relationship of peace and stability between Taiwan and China.