Sun, Feb 27, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Say the right thing, Clinton

Former US president Bill Clinton arrives here in Taipei today for a one-day visit, during which he will give a speech on democracy and security in Asia. Taiwanese people's opinion of Clinton has had its shares of ups and downs, a reflection of the love-hate relationship between the US and Taiwan. Mixed emotions arise despite the US being Taiwan's most important ally in the grand scheme of things.

The two best-remembered, Taiwan-related actions Clinton took during his presidency reflect the framework of US policy toward Taiwan in recent years.

The first was Clinton's dispatching two US aircraft carrier groups to waters near Taiwan in 1996. At the time, Beijing was conducting missile tests to intimidate Taiwan in an attempt to sway the country's voters from electing candidates it believed would lead Taiwan to formal independence in Taiwan's first ever popular presidential election. This show of force was a demonstration of the US determination to uphold its commitment toward Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act to help Taiwan defend itself.

The second action was Clinton's pledge of the so-called "three noes" in Shanghai after his June 1998 Beijing summit with then Chinese President Jiang Zemin (江澤民). The "three noes" were no to Taiwan independence, no to "two Chinas" and no to Taiwan's membership in international organizations requiring statehood. Before that time, no US president had ever openly stated such opposition. Clinton's decision to make the statement in Shanghai gave it added weight.

Clinton's successor, US President George W. Bush, has in general continued this long-standing US policy, under which it attempts to preserve a balance in its cross-strait policy. It protects Taiwan from Beijing's use of force, while opposing any Taiwanese moves toward formal independence. This policy is described as "maintaining the status quo in the Taiwan Strait."

Although President Bush is perceived as perhaps the president most friendly to Taiwan in recent times, the predicaments he faces in the triangular relationship between China, US, and Taiwan are not entirely the same as those faced by Clinton. When Clinton was in office, from 1992 to 2000, China was not yet the economic and military power that it is today. At the beginning of Clinton's term Beijing was still trying to leave behind the shadow of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and gain credibility as a big power. Beijing's success in that effort was undoubtedly helped by Clinton's policy of active engagement of China.

During most of Clinton's term, Taiwan was still in the early stages of its democratic reforms. Not until Clinton had stepped down from the presidency and Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) began serving his first term did Taiwan fully begin to develop a matured sense of national identity -- which has periodically became a source of concern to the US as it attempts to maintain its definition of the "status quo" in the Taiwan Strait.

Beijing is probably concerned that, as a civilian no longer restricted by his role as the US president and by the framework of existing US policies, Clinton may say the wrong thing in Taiwan -- "wrong," of course, meaning anything that is remotely at odds with Beijing's "one China" policy. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan (孔泉) cautioned Clinton to be careful not to stray from official US policy during his visit here. The question for Clinton is this: does he wish to say the "correct" things to please Beijing, or speak from his conscience?

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