Wed, May 03, 2006 - Page 8 News List

How Washington hedges its bets in East Asia

By Nat Bellocchi 白樂崎

There is much written these days on US-China relations, but as Chinese President Hu Jintao's (胡錦濤) recent visit to the US shows, no clear policy by either side has surfaced. What one hears these days is that both sides are working to establish a meaningful bilateral relationship in this rapidly changing atmosphere.

The US, however, for a variety of reasons, is "hedging" policies by strengthening its capability to defend its interests in East Asia.

China is also hedging its policies, mainly in terms of gaining sources of oil and strengthening its military.

For its Taiwan policy, it is holding out for a friendlier government in two years time, with the hope of drawing Taiwan closer to China and avoiding the need to implement unification by means of force.

As for Taiwan, this is where the struggle over the cross-strait issue will be determined. Taiwan's domestic problems, however, are making it more a spectator than an active player in the fundamental changes taking place in East Asia.

Within Taiwan, one side of the domestic political forces now looks to China for support, and the other side looks to the US for security. But the vast majority of voters will likely shun a difficult decision and opt for a continuation of the status quo despite continuous efforts by China to weaken that status by its growing military strength, by influencing the international community not to support Taiwan and by its own historical united front activity.

Taiwan is deeply involved in determining its own identity, with too little thought given to the vast change that is going on around it. President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) recent paper in the Wall Street Journal, titled "We Believe in Democracy," is precisely what is needed for Taiwan. If Taiwan wants to be a country, it has to act as a country, involving itself publicly in regional issues, physically if possible, rhetorically if not.

Looking at the political situation in Taiwan today, and what it may like be in two years time, may well frighten outsiders and even some in Taiwan. Both major parties are now engaged in internal struggles to gain consensus on what direction they should take for the future -- without much success.

The tendency at this point seems to be that those in power on both sides are not interested in compromise.

In the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) the struggle between different factions can be seen very clearly. The very nature of the party is open and not very disciplined. Its strongest leader is the president, who dominates policymaking but may not be able to do so in two years time.

In the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) there are strong differences among factions, but the carry-over of discipline from the past is still influential in party policies. The present leader, KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), is popular among the voters, but he does not dominate the party's policies.

At the same time Taiwanese voters are clearly tired of the political struggles brought on by almost continuous elections.

For the rest of the administration's tenure, there will be a relentless chain of elections. This is likely to continue to drive voters away from the polling booth, and cause them to scorn politicians generally.

Last year China broadened its laws to legitimize -- in Beijing's view -- using force to absorb Taiwan, and Taiwan's opposition leaders met with the Chinese Communist Party in China. This was the beginning of what could be a much different cross-strait relationship and a possible change in both Taiwanese and US policies. The KMT, which once wanted to destroy the People's Republic of China (PRC), now wants to regain power to draw closer to China, and eventually, inevitably, to become a part of China.

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