US-Taiwan relations need to be reinforced - Taipei Times
Sat, Dec 03, 2005 - Page 8 News List

US-Taiwan relations need to be reinforced

By Liu Kuan-teh 劉冠德

While domestic attention has again been focused on local politics and elections rather than international affairs, a closer look at the recent triangular goings on between Washington, Taipei and Beijing reveals an urgent need for President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) administration to reinforce its ties with the US.

US President George W. Bush wrapped up his Asian tour last week by strengthening the US' partnership with Japan and by continuing its dialogue with the Chinese government on several contentious issues.

Before visiting China, Bush promoted his "expansion of democracy" theory in Kyoto by lauding South Korea and Taiwan as models of economic liberalization turned political democracy. Bush held up Taiwan as a model for China's leaders to follow.

There is no doubt that the US and Taiwan share the universal values of democracy, freedom and human rights. But when it comes to the question of how to strike a balance between the growth of Taiwan's democratic consciousness and Washington's attempts to build a "candid, constructive and cooperative" partnership with China, it seems only the national interests of the US prevail. Even the "alliance of values" between Washington and Taipei can sometimes become distorted.

This was illustrated by the down-turn in US-Taiwan relations two years ago when a huge lack of understanding and trust occurred over Chen's advancement of a referendum. While Washington kept pressuring Chen to refrain from provoking China, the US failed to constrain Beijing's expansion of the missiles targeted at Taiwan and its diplomatic saber rattling and constriction of Taipei's international space.

Nevertheless, since Chen and Bush won re-election, relations have entered a renewed stage of mutual understanding and frank communication.

The Bush government's call for Beijing's leadership to engage in dialogue with Chen after former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) visited China this year also demonstrated Washington's support for Chen.

Therefore, Bush's recent statement presents a window of opportunity for the government to consolidate a sustainable partnership with the US.

The lack of intimate interaction between Bush and his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), displays a delicate change of Beijing's perception of the Bush administration. While intentionally refusing to engage in talks with Chen, Beijing's leaders have also shown less willingness to cooperate with Washington.

One should not overlook the possible change of Chinese mindset as Beijing probably has its eyes on the next change of leadership in both Taiwan and the US. Until 2008, passive interaction with Taiwan and the US may become a central principle of Beijing's policy.

If this is the case, Washington may have difficulties in terms of introducing its model of "economy first, democracy later" to China. Such a theory also ignores the potential dangers associated with Beijing's continued military build-up and aggrandizement. The Chinese people's consciousness of "century-old humiliation" is often be used by Beijing authorities as a tool for stirring nationalist sentiment.

Most importantly, it is hard to force an authoritarian China to introduce democracy without inviting military resistance, especially if Beijing fails to control the People's Liberation Army.

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