Thu, Aug 25, 2005 - Page 8 News List

US needs real experts on Taiwan

By Nat Bellocchi 白樂崎

While much is going on politically in Taiwan, the international concern about cross-strait relations seems to have quieted. One could attribute this to the calendar -- it's August, when politicians and many others take time off from work. But there are better reasons as well. In Taiwan, attention is on political developments that could alter the security architecture in the Western Pacific region.

Past events in Taiwan have brought in different forms of intervention, not only from China, but sometimes the US as well. It may become a little different in the future. The US may, or may not, wish to change its involvement, but in any event, in the meantime, it most surely will require continuous and expert attention.

China, on the North Korea issue, is playing more the mediator than the active player, while its more active involvement in cross-strait issues is done on the sidelines, and always in the role of an internal matter. But its major focus inevitably is on its own domestic issues, with the US relations and other external concerns the next priorities. It has entered the world community, but with the rapid pace of economic growth it has also begun to show increasingly more problems in managing it.

There has been a rise in the number of demonstrations or riots around the country (the government has recently set up new police units in some 36 cities). The tightening of rules on information available to the people, and reducing the activity of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), are some examples that clearly result from government nervousness in maintaining its control.

Cross-strait relations, however, remains for China a separate domestic issue. China's continuing economic growth gives it considerable influence in the international community, which in turn enables them to isolate Taiwan. At the same time, with the help of the opposition parties in Taiwan, it has established a line of communications between Taiwan's opposition political parties and China's only political party, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Not surprisingly there follows offers of even greater economic and other activities with these parties, which accept the "one China" principle, thus avoiding any relationship with the Taiwan government which does not. That and its ability to expand its military capability increasingly puts pressure on Taiwan's existence as a separate entity. This is for China and its friends in Taiwan a domestic activity which is to be expected to grow.

In the US for many, including politicians, this is also a time for rest at home or family trips. Issues that don't go away, even in August, are the Middle East and Iraq, or at home gasoline prices and Supreme Court nominees. Even in Asia, the North Korea talks are given a few weeks to meditate.

Nonetheless there is much discussion in government and think tanks on US -- China relations. Various economic problems, including the growing energy issue, the security concerns relative to China's growing military capability, and not yet as vocal as these but growing is China's increasing tightening of information and human rights actions that could increase instability.

For the US, consensus on these subjects can best be described as soft consensus -- work with China in strengthening relations on issues that are in both country's interest, and dialogue with them where the two country's differ. But in every case, one hears the caution that there is a need to continue studying China's intentions.

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