Mon, Dec 27, 2004 - Page 8 News List

When the US sneezes, Taiwan catches cold

By Liu Kuan-teh劉冠德

Unsurprisingly, the comments made by US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage that Taiwan was "probably the biggest landmine" in US-China relations as well as "the US is not required to defend Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act" stirred up domestic finger-pointing in Taipei.

When the US sneezes, Taiwan catches a cold. We have seen this pattern repeated over the past year. Partisan calculations aside, can Taiwan's leaders -- from both camps -- ?learn lessons and re-examine their strategy toward the new US-Taiwan-China relationship?

The Armitage quote was made Dec. 10 -- on the eve of Taiwan's legislative elections. The PBS network chose to run the interview more than ten days after the pan-blue camp secured a majority. Washington must have been relieved that the pro-new-constitution, pro-name-rectification pan-green forces failed to win the campaign. There is no need for Washington to intentionally sabotage the Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) administration. Yet more prudence is required in future communication between Taipei and Washington.

Armitage was simply explaining an old nuance in the TRA and the Three Communiques, and not a new policy change. But no one can deny the incremental adjustment in the US tendency to replace its old strategy of "ambiguity" with a clearer identification of what can and cannot be done.

Washington's move to draw a clear "red line" has been closely associated with a growing misperception of Taiwan's status and a lack of trust in Chen's next step regarding constitutional reforms and name change.

Taipei's lack of determination to strengthen its self-defense capability in the face of a potential military crisis originates from China's reckless and irrational miscalculation.

The US conviction is that all these factors would drag it into an unnecessary military conflict with China, which the Bush administration does not want and would be unable to solve.

Therefore, Armitage's comments displayed a unified Bush administration attitude to send clear messages to Chen's government, the pan-blue camp and Beijing.

Washington's warning to Chen is simply "don't take the US for granted." There is indeed a presumption in Taiwan -- advocated mostly by Taiwan's independence proponents -- that Taiwan can be provocative to China, and the US will bail Taiwan out.

Despite the differences between Chen and former President Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and his Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) on the strategy and goal of constitutional reforms and the name-change proposals, the push for a stronger Taiwan consciousness has no doubt worsened Washington-Beijing relations.

Such a notion that "the US will come to our aid anyway" has led to even more worrisome behavior by the pan-blue force's mindless and irrational boycott of the 6-million dollar purchase of eight diesel submarines, six Patriot PAC-3 anti-missile defense batteries and 12 P-3C maritime patrol aircraft.

In keeping with the TRA, the US should provide Taiwan with weapons sufficient for its defense to deter military action, but there is a difference between "deter" and "defend." Without showing any will to defend itself, how can Taiwan count only on the US' assistance?

To Beijing, it is not a good time to take advantage of US policy maker's criticisms of Taiwan's leader, either. The alleged move to enact the so-called "anti-secession law" is a straight manifestation of unilaterally changing the status quo of Taiwan Strait.

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