The controversy over President Chen Shui-bian's (
Chen's staff argued that the transit proposal suggested by the administration of US President George W. Bush was unacceptable because it failed to treat the democratically elected president of Taiwan with respect, and the delegation therefore preferred to search for an alternative arrangement.
The government, however, should refrain from engaging in political rhetoric with the US and should use diplomacy to straighten things out.
The statement released by Chen's staff that "Taiwan would become the son of the United States if we accepted the transit arrangement" was inappropriate and will not help in mending fences.
The timing and context of Chen's transit has become a litmus test of US-Taiwan relations, given that Chinese President Hu Jintao (
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the White House insisted on its original proposal, which restricted Chen's transit to outside the mainland US. The government considered this to be unfriendly and even humiliating. As such, the foreign ministry needed a contingency plan for Chen's transit stop. But both sides failed to minimize the impact of the issues that have politicized US-Taiwan relations.
Earlier this year, Chen's move to mothball the National Unification Council (NUC) and its guidelines angered Washington, because Taipei landed it with another "surprise."
Some predicted that the Bush administration might use the Chinese leader's visit to punish Chen. Taipei should recognize that Bush did not condemn the NUC decision during his meeting with Hu.
Relations between Taipei and Washington have gone through ups and downs recently, and there is room for better communication and understanding. Even Chen, when he met with the new director of the American Institute in Taiwan, Steven Young, emphasized several times that there would be no more "surprises."
Another concern of Washington's decision-makers is that as an open, transparent democracy, the US expects more from Taiwan. Washington supports Chen's administration because he is a democratically elected leader. But Beijing profoundly distrusts Chen.
While it is essential for leaders in Taipei and Washington to improve communication and mutual trust, and avoid adding unpredictability to the relationship, it is also important for Taiwan to earn more respect and fair treatment from the US, regardless of China's influence. Nevertheless, the effort on Taiwan's side has not been good enough.
The Bush administration also must avoid incorporating a double standard in its treatment of Taiwan in the course of engaging with Beijing. Bush should contemplate the degree to which his administration can keep a balance between safeguarding US interests and those of a democratic Taiwan, while at the same time engaging China and trying to mold it into a responsible stakeholder.
Looking ahead, Taipei should communicate more with Washington, while Washington should encourage Taiwan's efforts to establish good governance and political institutionalization.