Thu, May 11, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Letter: Post trip US-Taiwan relations

By Huang Jei-hsuan

If President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) latest diplomatic journey to Latin America might seem helter-skelter, the refusal by US President George W. Bush and the US State Department to give Chen's entourage transit rights in the US mainland obviously played a big part, compounded by Beijing's lurking in the shadow at every turn.

While China's interference on Taiwan's diplomatic efforts was to be expected, there could be a host of reasons behind the brush-off by Washington. Among them the most plausible is that it's another indication of the State Department's lingering displeasure towards Chen's recent effort at backtracking on his "four noes and one not" pledge, specifically the debacle regarding the National Unification Council and its guidelines.

But the Bush administration's reaction is at least puzzling and might even be contradicting its own policies. To be specific, Chen's abolition of the council and the guidelines amounts to nothing more than rectifying a past mistake, keeping an undemocratic dinosaur alive and removing another hurdle to Taiwan's full democracy.

If Bush's often stated foreign policy goal of "promoting democracy globally" is to be believed, then Chen should be commended.

Instead, contrasting to the recent formal White House ceremony bestowed on the visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), who ascended to his position through a selection process among a handful of members of China's Politburo, the Bush administration didn't want Chen -- who was elected to his presidency with a plurality through a general election process -- to come within a thousand kilometers of the US Capitol.

There has been speculation that the apparent snub was the Bush administration's attempt at shaming Taiwan into building up military readiness. There exists no sign it is working. Those pan-blue legislators, who are responsible for blocking the special arms purchase bill, ridiculed Chen's travail.

There has also been speculation that Washington intended to use the incident to further isolate Chen.

In the past year, hardly a month has gone by without the Bush administration urging Beijing to talk to Chen. But by talking to Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma ying-jeou (馬英九) and keeping Chen at bay, the Bush administration is setting a contradictory example for Beijing to follow.

Although Bush couldn't possibly be joining Beijing's "united front" against Taiwan, it is possible that he is inadvertently bolstering Beijing's isolation of the country.

Outwardly the more pressing reason given for rejecting Chen's request is that the US needs China to join the US and the EU in blocking Iran's nuclear ambitions. If that is the case, it is equally ignoble -- currying favor with China at the expense of Taiwan.

It is also misguided. The diplomatic game should have commenced with Taipei's request to Washington for some choice transit locations so as to give the US an opportunity to extract maximum concessions from China as a price for Washington's turning down Taipei's requests at the end. This would, in turn, be premised on Washington promising diplomatic help to Taipei in such institutions as the WHO and the UN.

Taiwan's politicians often take refuge in Taiwan's need for military protection from the US to explain away diplomatic slights from the US. They might have overlooked the fact that Taiwan's strategic importance justifies US military help.

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