Fri, Feb 10, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Time for broader talks with the US

By Shirley Kan

Events last week were instructive for the state of triangular relations among Taiwan, the US and China. On the first day of the Lunar New Year, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) called for serious consideration of whether to abolish the National Unification Council and the National Unification Guidelines.

The following day, the US deemed it necessary to remind Chen that it "does not support Taiwan independence and opposes unilateral changes to the status quo by either Taiwan or Beijing." The Bush administration said it did not appreciate what it called "surprises" from Chen, and reminded him of his commitment to the "four noes."

Despite what the US thinks, people in Taiwan, who believe that Taiwan is a country, do not think they have to consult Washington about such a matter and are surprised at the uproar in Washington over a mere suggestion by Chen.

Meanwhile, across the Strait, the past week saw China working in cooperation with the US, as well as Russia, the UK, France and Germany, in deciding the case of Iran's nuclear program at the UN Security Council. On Feb. 4, China voted at the International Atomic Energy Agency's meeting to support international pressure on Iran. Although Beijing agreed to "report" -- not "refer" -- Iran's case to the Security Council and has continued to oppose sanctions, this vote indicated some progress in cooperating with the Bush administration since Beijing's choice to "abstain" on a vote on Iran last September.

This progress came after US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick visited Beijing to stress the importance of the Iran issue, continued the "senior dialogue" over China's role as a "responsible stakeholder," discussed a visit in April by Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), and even hugged a panda with all its unmistakable symbolism.

While Beijing has endeavored to cooperate more with Washington (for now), there appears to be a gap in communications between Taiwan and the US.

Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng's (王金平) stopover in Washington last month may have contributed a little to ameliorating bilateral communications even if the brief visit did not produce any concrete results. Wang discussed the controversy over the special defense budget (originally meant to fund submarines, P-3C anti-submarine aircraft and PAC-3 missile defense system). But there are other important issues that need to be tackled as well. These issues include trade and investment and, possibly, a free trade agreement, which require substantive negotiations and support from US businesses. Other issues that need to be discussed include the export of US beef and Taiwan's participation in international efforts to prevent an avian flu pandemic.

Moreover, the issue of the special defense budget is not solely a question of arms procurement per se, but also a question about Taiwan's self-defense capability, readiness and critical infrastructure protection in the face of an accelerated military buildup by China since the Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1995-1996 (as stated again in the latest Quadrennial Defense Review).

Taipei's relationship with Washington is important, even if there are those in Taiwan who would prefer to turn to China or to settle cross-strait relations in another way. The rhetoric in Taiwan about US arms sales has been increasingly negative and even anti-American, while some policymakers in the US have questioned Taiwan's commitment to its own self-defense.

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