A new pastime for US officials is to slam Taiwan over the repeated failure of the special arms procurement budget bill to pass. It is understandable that Taiwan's supporters in the US should be frustrated over the pan-blue camp's efforts to thwart this important piece of legislation. But simply giving Taiwanese politicians a tongue-lashing is not enough to make this issue move forward, and indeed, only exacerbates the problem.
The US must take concrete action to help resolve this issue. That can happen with two simple steps.
The first step is to deny visas to prominent politicians who oppose the arms deal. This is justified for a host of reasons.
First, it was the US that took the gamble and approved the weapons systems for release in early 2001, despite the attendant political fallout with Beijing. Despite its many faults, the Bush administration forsook smoother ties with China in an effort to bolster Taiwan's democracy by providing for its defense.
Second, Washington must be resolved in demonstrating to the people of Taiwan that undermining US-Taiwan relations has consequences. But this needn't come at the expense of Taiwan itself -- it should be those responsible for weakening US-Taiwan relations that pay a price. And given that many prominent politicians maintain residences, connections and bank accounts in the US, this shouldn't be hard to do. Deny their visas when they apply for entry, for whatever reason.
The pan-blues will get the message pretty quickly, but more importantly, so will the people of Taiwan.
The next step that Washington should take is very easy, and very specific. The US Department of Defense should abandon the naive policy guideline implemented by former deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz in 2003 that prevents Taiwan from helping to build the eight diesel-electric submarines that are in the special budget. Until legislators have a tangible reason to support the procurement, they will oppose it. There are too many ideological issues involved for the bill to pass in its current form. But as soon as lawmakers see that their constituents will be getting jobs and their backers contracts from the deal, it will begin to move forward.
Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England was one of the key players in Taiwan's Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF) project, and he understands the importance of having local involvement to get things done. Although the IDF is criticized in some quarters, it is an example of a successful joint-procurement project. England should know why Wolfowitz's guideline must be abandoned.
The point of all of this is that the US must be more creative when it addresses Taiwan's domestic political situation. Having congressmen or bureaucrats shout and stomp their feet with frustration is ineffective, to put it charitably. When US officials place blame anywhere -- no matter how vaguely that blame is placed -- it only gives local lawmakers sticks with which to beat each other, furthering the divisiveness in Taiwan's fledgling democracy.
And that is the key point. Taiwan has been a true democracy for less than a decade. There are major deficiencies in the current system of government, some of which will take many years to address. But the US has a responsibility -- both in terms of realpolitik and ideology -- to ensure that Taiwan's democracy is secure. To do this, it must first understand the situation clearly, and then take considered action which fits into an overall strategy for Taiwan.
Taiwan-US ties will keep advancing beyond the administrations of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and President George W. Bush, beyond the special arms budget fiasco and other problems that arise. Every domestic political battle in Taiwan is an opportunity for the US to bolster democracy by helping to reconcile opposing positions.
So lend a hand.
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