Fri, Mar 17, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan-US ties: All politics is local

By Nat Bellocchi 白樂崎

It was the father of Tip O'Neil, the late speaker of the US House of Representatives, who said that all politics is local -- a statement that still rings true not only in the US, but in democracies in general.

The issue of "ceasing" the National Unification Council and guidelines seems to have blown over, but some differences of opinion -- most likely resulting from domestic politics in both Washington and Taipei -- continue to be debated. This debate may be setting the tone for future cross-strait politics.

Two errors occurred in the council/guidelines issue. The first was one of poor timing.

When China promulgated the "Anti-Secession" Law last year, it clearly altered the "status quo" and endangered Taiwan. The US opposed the move, carefully, and Taiwan galvanized its most effective international public relations effort in the present administration's tenure. This was negated, however, by the opposition leaders' visits to China.

For Taiwan, it would have been better to have raised the plan to "cease" the council and guidelines before the visits took place. It would have been a quid pro quo, with each side having contributed to changing the "status quo."

When it did come up, in President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) New Year speech, most people in Taiwan were not particularly surprised.

Those in Washington were, however.

This brought on the second error. In a routine daily briefing for the media by the State Department, a statement about Chen's New Year speech was made before any questions had been asked. That was very unusual as the subject had not come up before.

Even if the New Year speech had attracted significant public attention, it would surely have been better not to comment on a cross-strait issue on which China had not yet voiced its displeasure.

Furthermore, the fact that the US publically opposed Chen's move only strengthened China's case against it. As a result, China was able to play the wounded party and gather support from the international community.

The result of these two errors was that the US proved itself willing and able to enforce its policy of "no unilateral change to the status quo" when dealing with Taiwan, but less so when dealing with China. This despite the fact that Taiwan is democratic and China authoritarian.

It could very well become the pattern of the future. China should quite easily be able to oppose Taiwanese independence while nibbling away at Taiwan's international interests.

The US needs to find a way of maintaining its interests in East Asia in the face of China's expansion, both in the region and internationally.

The US' relationship with China will inevitably be an important factor in cross-strait issues. At the same time, the US will need to keep abreast of political changes in Taiwan's relatively young democracy.

For its part, Taiwan will have to come to terms with the competing priorities that determine US policy.

Taiwan is only now beginning to fully understand these different political forces.

The need for the US government to come to a consensus domestically is being felt more now in Taiwan than ever before.

While Taiwan has fewer interests to protect, it has a far more difficult task in reaching consensus over its form of government and preserving its democracy in the face of opposition from China.

Because of this, it is easy to see how issues such as the economy and social welfare, security and freedom can be overwhelmed by the lingering problem of resolving the political system.

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