Wed, May 03, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Getting the priorities right

Today, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) is scheduled to depart for Paraguay and Costa Rica for a 10-day state visit. But on the eve of his departure, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Presidential Office have not been able to confirm Chen's transit stop in the US en route to these allies. This is not the first time a Taiwanese head of state has faced this kind of situation, but it nevertheless goes against the spirit of Taiwan-US relations and violates diplomatic etiquette. It is regrettable that the US has showed no respect for Taiwan by making it difficult for Chen to stop in the US.

Last year, when US President George W. Bush was visiting Japan, he praised Taiwan's democratization as setting an example to other nations. Although the relationship has had its ups and downs as a result of Chinese pressure, both sides have managed to remain allies in spirit.

A mechanism has been established to allow Taiwanese presidents to make transit stopovers in the US. During his presidency Chen has stopped over in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Houston. On this occasion, he seems to be getting the runaround.

Perhaps the US is still annoyed with Chen over his decision to cease the functions of the National Unification Council and the application of its guidelines, and is showing its displeasure. Because Taipei and Washington reached a consensus on this issue through diplomatic negotiations, and because Chen agreed to "cease" rather than "terminate" the NUC as well as its guidelines, it seems petty of the US to act in this way.

Some have speculated that the US' behavior is related to protocol gaffes that occurred during Chinese President Hu Jintao's (胡錦濤) visit to the US, including the erroneous announcement of China's national anthem as that of the "Republic of China" and the heckling by Epoch Times reporter Wang Wenyi (王文怡) during Hu's welcoming ceremony.

The US is dragging its feet in preventing Chen from passing through New York as a sop to Beijing in the wake of these gaffes, observers claim. However, the gaffes and Chen's trip are unrelated and should not be linked.

Due to pressure from Beijing, Taiwan's president cannot visit the US in any official capacity. However, in transiting through the US, the president has been able to meet with members of Congress and officials. This transit diplomacy has become part of trips to diplomatic allies in Central and South America. But over time, matters of protocol have taken precedence over more substantive issues. Important issues in the bilateral relationship, including those pertaining to the arms bill and intellectual property rights, have been neglected. Matters of protocol are essentially superficial and paying excessive attention to them is self-defeating and is injurious to Taiwan's dignity.

The government must restrain itself when conducting this "stopover diplomacy," putting the focus of its diplomatic enterprise on allies that have official ties with Taiwan. On the eve of Chen's trip to Latin America, Paraguay's finance minister has asked Taiwan to step up its efforts to help the country repay its foreign debt and Costa Rica is about to sign a trade deal with China. Elsewhere, the new government of the Solomon Islands will review diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

Chen's administration should be devoting its attention and energies to these matters.

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