Sat, May 07, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Does the US get China's game?

The Bush administration has been sending contradictory messages to China in the last two years, damaging US strategic interests in East Asia. So Thursday's phone call between US President George W. Bush and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) comes as a relief.

In the call the US president stressed that Taiwan opposition leaders were fine but if any progress was to be made on achieving greater stability in the Taiwan Strait it could only be done by Beijing dealing directly with, as Scott McClellan put it, "the duly elected leaders in Taiwan, and that means President Chen [Shui-bian, (陳水扁)] and his Cabinet."

Such sound advice comes as a breath of fresh air after the contradictory mess that has been US policy. We have commented before on how the US has concentrated on containing Chen and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government and boosting the pan-blues -- to the extent of the State Department's last-minute intervention in last December's legislative election campaign against the DPP -- even though the pan-blues, as Greater China nationalists, have strategic interests exactly the opposite of the US. The passage of Beijing's "Anti-Secession" Law seems to have finally injected a little common sense into policy in Washington.

There is, however, still reason to wonder if the US is getting the picture. For taken in their most literal meaning, McClellan's words suggest that there might still be a a misperception of what the visits of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) to China are really about.

That misperception could be characterized as seeing the Lien and Soong visits as building up a momentum, or as part of a continuum that eventually will lead to Hu-Chen contacts. Yet that is exactly what China is not doing. The whole intention is to isolate Chen as much as possible, to throw a few bones at the Taiwanese to win their favor and to show Chen and the DPP as being impotent in achieving the thing that most people in the country want -- a better relationship with their major trading partner. It is part of China's strategy therefore, specifically not to reach out to Chen, because it wishes to paint him and his government as an irrelevancy.

Of course the US may be well aware of this and Bush's comments deliberately ingenuous, aiming to push China into a game it doesn't really want to play by appearing to not really understand what the game really is.

Certainly it is in the interests of the US to see tensions in the Taiwan Strait reduced by government-to-government talks, just as it is also vital to US interests that unification never takes place. The best possible outcome therefore would be a Taiwan permanently in green hands, and yet at least on "jaw, jaw" rather than "war, war" terms with China.

But how is this to come about? First,we would remind our American friends that while Taiwan is ready to sell wax apples to China and pet the pandas if they come, the "reunification, independence or status quo" surveys show no significant movement as a result of the opposition leaders' visits. Neither the overwhelming preference for the status quo, nor the poor support for unification either now or in the future, have significantly changed.

And secondly, we would also remind them that the arms budget has still not been passed and that this is the fault specifically of the KMT. We said a couple of weeks ago that it was time the US applied pressure to the KMT leadership -- visa and entry denials, and IRS audits of US business interests of KMT leading lights would be the weapons of choice. If the tactic to isolate Chen appears to be gaining too much ground, nothing would throw a spanner in the works as much as the KMT backing passage of the weapons procurement bill -- and a little arm-twisting might bring that about.

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