Mon, Jan 24, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Soong has to play his cards right

By James Wang 王景弘

The People First Party (PFP) lost some of its legislative seats to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) in last year's legislative elections. Following the elections, KMT Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) mistakenly treated the two as one party in command of a legislative majority. Completely ignoring PFP Chairman James Soong's (宋楚瑜) feelings and position, he imperiously required the right to form the Cabinet and also made several other demands, implying that he would not balk at once again bringing Taiwan to a stand-still if those demands were not met. Soong, on the other hand, went to the US to get medical treatment and to think about how to play his next card.

He caused an uproar in the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which made repeated calls for negotiations and cooperation, and he caused an anxious KMT to say that "he should at least avoid hurting his friends and pleasing his enemies."

While all this was going on, Soong played his first card: It wasn't the China card or the KMT card, nor was it the DPP card. Instead, it was the US card. In Taiwanese politics, the US card is constantly being played. The precursor of the DPP, the tangwai (outside-the-party movement), played it to force the democratization of the KMT dictatorship, the KMT played it to suppress Taiwanese independence activities and China is currently playing it to deal with "separatists."

Soong's US card differs from these, both in the way he played it, and in its qualities. Soong's US card was played merely to pave the way for his next card, or, to put it in other words, to provide a political smoke screen for his next move. With the hand Soong is currently holding, and the effects of the US card, his playing it before he left the US has indeed made the KMT uneasy.

As far as the US is concerned, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Randall Schriver's meeting with Soong for "an exchange of opinion" was a routine matter, since the US Department of State maintains routine contacts with opposition leaders in other countries. What's more, Schriver's main areas of responsibility include Taiwan, and, being a working official, his meeting with Soong for an exchange of opinions is nothing out of the ordinary.

Although the US government is worried over the deadlocked political situation in Taiwan, it is a domestic matter to be solved through Taiwan's political procedures, and nothing that the US can easily interfere with. The US is mainly concerned over three issues: The arms purchase, cross-strait dialogue and maintenance of the cross-strait status quo. Shriver is certain to have expressed the US' views on these issues during his meeting with Soong.

These three issues are seen by the US as crucial to stabilizing the cross-strait situation and avoiding the eruption of a crisis. Taiwan's purchase of advanced weapons is aimed at deterring Chinese use of military force; cross-strait dialogue is aimed at using political means to respond to the cross-strait relationship and avoid tension; and maintenance of the status quo is aimed at reducing the possibility of increased tension across the Taiwan Strait.

Cross-strait dialogue cannot be achieved by one side alone. While Taiwan is working hard at this, China is ignoring the issue, and what is said on each side does not match up. Maintaining the status quo means defining it, but apart from the US and Taiwan having different opinions, opinions about this also differ within Taiwan. Soong's party is not in power, and his opinions differ from the DPP's. The US therefore does not likely pay too much attention to the point of view propounded by Soong.

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