As we are all by now painfully aware, President Chen Shui-bian (
The US offer of transit stops in Anchorage, Alaska, or Honolulu, Hawaii, amounted to a slap in the face. While both are lovely cities, they are not part of the US mainland, nor are they considered political or economic centers. And even in these outlying cities, Chen was only given permission for a five-hour stopover, ruling out the possibility of the president conducting any meaningful meetings -- which was the real motivation for transiting in the US to begin with.
Contrary to what Chen's critics would have us believe, these transit stops are not just photo and sightseeing opportunities funded by the taxpayers. Rather, they are invaluable and increasingly rare opportunities for the government to strengthen ties with Taiwanese-American groups and members of the US Congress who are friendly to Taiwan -- people who have the power to sway US policy in this nation's favor.
When it became clear that the stopovers offered by the Bush administration would not serve this purpose, and that they might even damage Taiwan's image, Chen made a calculated and rational decision to cut his losses and skip them altogether.
Although Minister of Foreign Affairs James Huang (黃志芳) opined that the US had made a decision to appease China at a time when it needed that country's assistance on Iran's nuclear enrichment program, the fighting in Darfur and North Korea's nuclear ambitions, no one can say with certainty why the US offered Chen the low-level reception that it did. But the Bush administration had its reasons, and that is the reality of international politics. And it is hard to believe that Chen, as a seasoned politician, would take the episode personally and react emotionally.
In spite of what China and its yes-men in Taiwan would have the world believe, Chen is the president of this country. The reception accorded to him by another government is therefore a direct reflection on the standing of this nation. So, while Chen should not take this incident personally, we should. Taiwanese should feel saddened and humiliated that the president's humble request for transit stops that would allow him to speak to like-minded figures in the US were rejected. Under the circumstances, it is baffling that some people have seen this incident as a cause for celebration.
It is also pathetic that so many are reading so much into what has happened -- from speculation on changes in the US-Taiwan relationship, to talk of the Presidential Office retaliating by refusing to purchase arms from the US, among other ridiculous rumors.