It is hard to miss the central theme of the US President George W. Bush's inaugural speech for his second term -- to help oppressed people fight tyranny. This speech -- with the words "freedom," "liberty," and "democracy" running throughout the text -- of course highlight some very fundamental and lofty US ideals.
The people of Taiwan are focused on how this policy declaration will play out over the next four years in the context of the triangular relationship between the US, China and Taiwan. However, looking back at this very unique relationship over the four years, it is not hard to notice that these ideals -- however lofty they may be -- face some very strenuous challenges from self-interest and pragmatism.
After Bush gave his inauguration speech, commentators were quick to point out some of the US' important allies and partners are guilty of precisely the crimes that Bush has vowed to end. To Taiwan, the most important case in point is of course China -- an authoritarian state notorious for oppressing human rights.
Despite being the world's most powerful country, the US needs the friendship of Beijing and its helping hand, in particular in dealing with North Korea. While it cannot be denied that the US has consistently expressed concern to China about its human rights record, the real question is: What can the US do about it? Actually, a better question is: What does it intend to do about it?
At this point, the answer is nothing -- at least nothing meaningful.
While it is understandable that there is only so much the US can do about domestic human rights issues of China, its handling of the so-called Taiwan issue is less understandable.
If it is so important to help oppressed peoples leave tyranny behind, isn't it even more important help free people resist subjection to tyranny? The latter scenario would precisely be what happens to Taiwan if unification with China occurs.
Looking back at the US-Taiwan relationship over the past four years, most would agree that the biggest tension between the two countries occurred over Taiwan's plan to rewrite its constitution and Taiwan's holding of referendums. Both matters -- the campaign for a new constitution and the holding of referendums -- reflect the coming of age for a democratic Taiwan. Under the circumstances, a better way to depict the situation is this -- the US felt unnerved and uneasy by the reaching of major democratic milestones in Taiwan. This is of course highly ironic.
Not so long ago, Taiwan was still seen as a prodigy of democratic reform, for which the US felt very proud of. Despite the fact that the democratic development of Taiwan was encouraged by the US, limits were apparently drawn on how far these developments can go. The limit is that the "status quo" must be maintained.
However, is it possible to maintain the status quo? Is it even possible to define the status quo? Does status quo mean the status quo more than fifty years ago when the World War II first ended, or when the Chinese Nationalist Party government first took refuge in Taiwan? Can the status quo be maintained when China has evolved from its status as a third world country that closed the door on the world, into a rising power that poses serious challenges to the US' world leadership?
Frankly speaking, despite the ups and downs in the relationship between Taiwan and the US over these past four years, the Bush administration has nevertheless demonstrated unprecedented friendliness toward Taiwan. However, that friendliness has thus far not gone nearly as far as the people of Taiwan have hoped.