Fri, Sep 16, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Clearing the line to Washington

Clarity is a powerful thing. And events in the last week have offered Taiwanese some real clarity on how change can be both desirable and ominous.

The shenanigans in the legislature this week may hardly surprise locals or overseas observers with a rudimentary knowledge of Taiwanese politics. However, the Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) mission to humiliate underperforming Premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) and disrupt as much government business as possible comes as a disappointment, given the -- perhaps naive -- expectation held by many on both sides of the political fence that KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) would steer his party in a more rational, positive and -- heaven help us -- democratic direction.

Although there has been movement of sorts on the arms-procurement bill, the KMT has again blocked its discussion in committee and on the legislative floor, reinforcing the fact that the KMT will simply do the bidding of its spiritual masters in Beijing until national security is damaged beyond repair.

Same old stuff -- and it is difficult to predict when, or even if, this gridlock is going to end.

The brief visit to Taiwan by Dana White, the country director for Taiwan in the US Office of the Secretary of Defense, is therefore a welcome tonic. White came to finalize high-level security talks between Taipei and Washington that were originally canceled because of the scheduled visit to the US by Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤). But the initial cancelation -- a painful and demeaning slap in the face for Taiwan -- points to an unsettling change stateside: a growing tension between pro-China and pro-Taiwan forces in the Bush administration, with the former prevailing.

The mantra of protecting the "cross-strait status quo" has been chanted by officials in all countries involved, but until such time that those US officials mired in an Orientalist devotion to a utopian Chinese state recognize that the "status quo" can be maintained neither passively nor indefinitely, the eroding of both Taiwanese and US interests in the region will continue and most likely accelerate.

In the meantime, President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) administration can only be grateful to the US Department of Defense for intervening to ensure that this year's Monterey talks will take place. It is crucial, however, that defenders of democracy on both sides of the Pacific take this incident as a sign of things to come, and make a much more committed effort to set up lines of communication.

Though American Institute in Taiwan Director Douglas Paal was savaged in a recent US State Department report for not keeping Washington adequately informed of developments here, what has been genuinely surprising is the amateurish and slovenly attempts by the Chen administration to communicate with Washington, and, just as importantly, members of Congress. It is not clear who should be held responsible: Chen, perhaps, or the increasingly discredited Boy Scouts -- his youthful team of so-called advisers.

Regardless, the truth of the matter is that if there is going to be change, Taiwan cannot afford to be anything less than an instigator of it rather than its dumb object. As the Bush administration struggles with Iraq and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, a more proactive and focused campaign for practical support among members of Congress and other US officials will vindicate supporters in the US and at home at a time of considerable distraction for the American public. There is no clearer road to take.

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