On Oct. 25, US Secretary of State Colin Powell gave interviews to two cable TV networks while in Beijing. His statements about Taiwan created a strong negative reaction in Taiwan.
To Hong Kong's Phoenix TV, Powell said: "Taiwan is not independent. It does not enjoy sovereignty as a nation, and that remains our policy, our firm policy."
To CNN International, he said: "We want to see both sides not take unilateral action that would prejudice an eventual outcome, a reunification that all parties are seeking."
The first statement denies the reality that Taiwan is a de facto independent nation which exercises exclusive, effective control over its territory.
Taiwan possesses all attributes of a state: territory, population, government and capacity to engage in foreign relations.
Perhaps Powell was referring to the lack of diplomatic relations between Washington and Taipei. But lack of recognition by the US does not ipso facto mean Taiwan is not sovereign.
Between 1949 and 1979 the US did not recognize the Beijing government, but the People's Republic of China (PRC) was nonetheless a sovereign state.
The denial of Taiwan's sovereignty makes sense only as laying the ground for the second statement, ie, the PRC, the US and Taiwan all seek eventual "reunification," a remark which is full of factual errors.
First of all, Taiwan has not been a part of China legally since 1895, when the Qing dynasty ceded the island to Japan in perpetuity. The PRC has never ruled Taiwan.
The word "reunification" is a misnomer used by Beijing to mislead. The proper word is annexation. Second, the majority of Taiwanese reject unification with China.
The most recent poll by the Mainland Affairs Council shows that fewer than 2 percent of Taiwanese want unification now and only 11 percent want it later; 24 percent prefer formal independence and the rest want to maintain the status quo.
Longstanding US policy has been to seek a peaceful resolution to the dispute between Taiwan and the PRC with the consent of the people of Taiwan. The US does not seek to dictate any particular outcome.
The denigration of Taiwan's sovereignty, however, was not retracted by the State Department.
In his daily press briefing on Oct. 25, Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli stated: "As far as Taiwan sovereignty goes ... The words the Secretary used accurately reflected our longstanding policy on Taiwan's status."
There is no question Powell's remarks have caused great consternation and anxiety in Taipei.
The opposition parties were certainly given ammunition to continue their obstruction of the bill to purchase the arms package offered by the US in 2001.
If the US policy is to seek annexation of Taiwan by China, then why should Taiwan bother with the expensive US weapons package? The government's efforts to strengthen the national will to defend Taiwan's sovereignty and freedom have also been made more difficult.
Into this battered Washington-Taipei relationship, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage has hurled a devastating bomb.
On Dec. 10, the eve of Taiwan's elections for the Legislative Yuan, Armitage was interviewed on PBS.
On Dec. 22 when the interview was aired again, the news was picked up in Taipei and precipitated another uproar.
Armitage made four comments about Taiwan, one of which clearly contradicts basic US policy and represents an egregious lack of judgment.