Early last month, President Chen Shui-bian
This begs the question why the US State Department does not side with democracy and how we should interpret its reaction. First of all, we must understand what is going on in the State Department.
Although the Secretary of State is appointed by the incumbent president, the staff in subordinate agencies are bureaucrats employed by the state whose political preferences do not change with the administration. Because the State Department's main responsibility is foreign policy, it employs many specialists with expertise on different regions, such as the Middle East, China or Russia. When there is a problem somewhere, those specializing in that particular region are first consulted and the proper response measures are then decided.
These experts are well versed in the language and culture of the country of their expertise, and they have a deeper understanding of local political issues. The experts studying China -- Taiwan has always been treated as part of the China issue -- are all so-called "China hands" who speak Chinese.
Almost every American studying Chinese has first had an interest in Chinese culture, and that has led on to studying the language. They have then continued to delve deeper into the political and economic fields to become what are known as "experts."
These China hands -- epitomized by the noted China specialist and Harvard professor John King Fairbank -- are not only China-friendly, but also Communist-friendly, and most of them are part of the Western leftist movement. The views of Fairbank and his students have influenced the US' China policies for decades.
Today, as China's economy is experiencing rapid development, the US' China experts are given the red-carpet treatment by China, and they are now leaning even more heavily toward China.
Only a handful of these China experts, such as Ross Terrill, John Tkacik and Arthur Waldron, are sympathetic to Taiwan, but their opinions have limited influence in the State Department.
It is of course nothing new to see that the State Department continues to stick to the US' longstanding policy. There is, however, a growing debate in the US on how to deal with local changes in Taiwan.
The State Department's position is not representative of the US as a whole, since the US is composed of the voices of public opinion, Congress, think tanks and academic circles.
Congress and, particularly, think tanks have in recent years continued to demand that the administration re-evaluate its "one China" policy, accord Taiwan diplomatic recognition, and support its bid to gain UN membership. US ambassador to the UN John Bolton has also expressed support for these demands.
The US is not a country with one homogeneous opinion. Changes in the US' approach to Taiwan, however, are basically determined by public opinion in Taiwan and the efforts of the Taipei administration. Only if the call for the normalization of Taiwan's national status enters the mainstream will there be a basis for demanding that the US change its Taiwan policy. And as a democratic country based on respect for public opinion, the US should respect the will of the people in Taiwan.
Cao Changqing is a writer based in New York.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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