The process of organizing the second Bush administration is under way. It is news throughout the country, but in Washington where the bureaucracy has a more personal reason to pay attention to the turnover of Cabinet and sub-Cabinet positions, it is of especially great interest. Still, it is of equally great interest for them to speculate just how much the new team will affect policies.
For those interested in the US' relationship with Taiwan and China, there is the perennial tug of war between those who claim to be "realists" and those who see "values" as most important in pursuing national interests.
The realists usually base their case on the power and size of China compared to Taiwan. Some see China as a future partner. Some say that the US has enough problems with China and these should be addressed without the albatross they see in Taiwan. Some, of course, have business or personal reasons to support a pragmatic course with China. Unfortunately for them, this view has not been embraced by the Bush administration.
The direction Taiwan is following is not what experts had in mind. That Taiwan was to be governed by the majority of Taiwanese was fine. That they were to rule in a democracy was also fine. But they became disillusioned when Taiwan's democracy went too far beyond the semi-democracy of the past.
Taiwan was becoming, again, a troublemaker. That its elections very much reflected US presidential campaigns didn't seem to matter. To be sure, the two situations are not the same, and the US has genuine concerns about the impact of some trends that could affect its interests. But name-calling was not a good way for two democracies to manage bilateral problems.
There are others who continue to suggest an interim agreement, usually within a time frame. Never very popular with China for political reasons, it also doesn't attract support of Taiwan's people, who do not want to dump responsibility on their children. There is quid pro quo each side could offer during this interim period. The most common one is Taiwan's eschewing a declaration of independence in return for no military attack by China. One is a sovereignty issue, the other a security one -- a non-starter for both.
No doubt all of these will be reviewed when the players in the second Bush administration are selected. Most speculation has it that policies are likely to remain the same, but implementing them will change, depending on the issue and the person responsible for them. Most seem to think that US policy toward Taiwan will continue to be one of pressing for constraint on anything relevant to cross-strait issues. That policy may have its problems, but does take into account the US' relationship with China, while at the same time recognizing the need to take into account both the security and democracy of Taiwan.
To carry out this policy, there will be a need for effective and broadly implemented communication between the US and Taiwan; a means of balancing perceived provocations between both sides of the Strait; a better understanding of the special vocabulary that has developed on cross-strait issues; and the avoidance of surprises. All of these are not meant to be only American policies -- but Taiwan's as well.
I have often expressed the need for broad communications between the US and Taiwan, and need not belabor that issue again. Regarding provocation, we have grown up knowing the long list of "red lines" that supposedly belong to China. For some China experts, anything that irritates China is provocative.