Fri, Aug 26, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: US opts for cents and insensibility

The news that Washington has canceled the highest level US-Taiwan defense talks that take place each year is a reminder of the inability of the Bush administration to conduct sensible foreign policy, as well as brazen hypocrisy when it comes to questions of principle.

When Washington abandons pragmatism and ideology in its diplomatic affairs, then what is left? Unfortunately, the answer seems to be "damage control."

Even diehard Republican US officials have acknowledged that President George W. Bush is quickly becoming a lame-duck president due to his mishandling of Iraq, his inability to make progress on the North Korean nuclear standoff and his frequently divisive domestic agenda.

Bush desperately wants to avoid any more crises. This now includes even minor rows with Beijing over what has been an eight-year tradition -- the yearly US-Taiwan security forum in Monterey, California.

The problem with such reactive diplomacy is that it is shortsighted and sends the wrong message to Washington's allies, as well as its enemies -- or "strategic competitors" as the politically correct call them.

The tension between China and Taiwan is neither a minor trade dispute nor a diplomatic gaffe that can be papered over. A conflict could involve the world's largest economies -- the US, China and Japan -- in a direct confrontation over vital strategic interests.

Yet the Bush administration once again demonstrates its lack of imagination as it sacrifices what is clearly in the US' interest -- support for a democratic state on the periphery of its security frontier -- just so that Bush can have a nice, quiet photo-op with a tyrant.

Certainly, increased US engagement with China is in everyone's best interests, and if millions of impoverished Chinese can be lifted out of abject destitution, then all of humanity will benefit. And, of course -- as the platitude-purveyors at the US State Department love to chant -- the US has an interest in maintaining a healthy, stable relationship with China.

But this does not mean that Washington has to cower in the face of an oppressive authoritarian regime simply because the latter offers promises of cheap consumer electronics.

The White House is making a grave mistake allowing itself to be influenced by Chinese President Hu Jintao's (胡錦濤) visit next month. After all, the trip is an exercise in fluff, and the most substantial thing that is likely to come of it is hours of TV coverage of two men in suits sitting in chairs with half-smiles on their faces.

Few people believe that a conflict between Taiwan and China is likely; fewer still believe it to be imminent. This is probably so, and so long as cool heads and good sense prevail, it will never happen.

But the lessons of history are clear, and it is foolish to put one's faith in the good sense of politicians -- especially politicians who are rarely accountable to anyone for anything, such as China's leaders.

Before it decides to sacrifice necessary security preparations, the US would do well to remember that everything it achieved in East Asia came at the price of blood.

The shattered husks of fighters and warships that litter the ocean floor from the Solomons to Okinawa -- and rivers of blood from soldiers and civilians -- mark the last time an ultra-nationalist, militant state had to be brought to heel in the region.

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