Tue, Feb 15, 2005 - Page 8 News List

US must be more active in Strait

By Nat Bellocchi白樂崎

Cross-strait relations are getting more complicated. China seems to be implementing a carrot and stick strategy, while Taiwan is putting the idea of unification and "one country, two systems" further out of reach, and the willy-nilly US is becoming the middle man. To keep up with the changes, the US will need much better communication channels and more experts on its relations with Taiwan.

I believe this aspect of the cross-strait issue became apparent during Taiwan's presidential and legislative election campaigning last year. It will probably last until after the elections of 2008, when a new president and an entirely different legislature governs Taiwan. Cross-strait issues, including the pursuit of a national entity, became the centerpiece of the campaign challenging the old constraints on public debates on the subject, and bringing the ideology of the main opposition party, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), close to that of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), including the option of independence.

This development jarred the US, causing one of the greatest escalations in tensions between the US and Taiwan in recent memory. It brought an unusually strong reaction from the US State Department, and a softening of the usually strong support in Congress. It also brought many Chinese-American supporters of the opposition in Taiwan to lobby Congress against the Taiwanese government. Taiwan is still making a major effort to repair the damage.

Perhaps one positive result for Taiwan-US relations is a better understanding that the flaws in Taiwan's democratic institutions need to be addressed. There was a short-lived period immediately following the legislative elections in December last year, during which many people thought the result was a move back to the comfortable "one China" principle and a low-profile base for managing the relationship. There may be some changes among the three players -- Taiwan, China, and the US -- but it is more likely to be a change in the rhetoric, not in objectives.

In Taiwan, the alignment of political parties is in flux. The line between pan-green and pan-blue ideologies -- and ideologies within the political camps -- is becoming more blurred. The DPP has the largest number of seats in the legislature, but not enough to have a majority. The Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) is a political and ideological ally of the DPP, but the two do not have a sufficient number of seats to form a majority.

The party with the second largest amount of seats in the legislature is the KMT, which with the People First Party (PFP) -- the third largest -- retains a majority, but only tenuously. Come May, the KMT leadership will retire, and likely be replaced by either Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) or Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), both of whom are considered to be more flexible in working with the governing party.

The PFP is positioned to play king-maker for either the KMT or the DPP on specific issues if it can control it's sometimes fractious membership. This kind of issue-oriented behavior by politicians will not please voters, who are clearly tired of the continuous wrangling that has stalled badly needed reform. It will make it difficult for party leaders to groom a winning candidate in the next presidential election.

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