Thu, May 18, 2006 - Page 8 News List

US, Taiwan need broader dialogue

By Nat Bellocchi 白樂崎

In the present state of the US-Taiwan relationship, perhaps instead of trying to focus on the attitudes of the presidents on each side -- who both seem to believe that the other is not taking his country's interests into account -- it might be useful to remember how the situation has developed, starting with the time Taiwan began moving toward democracy (and China began opening its doors to the world).

Up to around Taiwan's presidential campaign period of 1991-1992, the US had held back from making any changes in security issues and the strict rules on dealing with Taiwan that Washington had established unilaterally. In the time thereafter, the US cleared the licenses for the sale of F-16 fighter planes to Taiwan, and publicly supported Taiwan's membership in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. An effort to review the rules was started, but internal opposition and the forthcoming change of administration ended the effort.

After the first year of the Clinton administration, the review was restarted and a few changes were made, including allowing visits to Taiwan by some US Cabinet-level officials and transits of senior Taiwanese officials in the US. These changes were offset by more substantive policies, among them the statement that the US would not support Taiwan's entry into international organizations that require statehood, or Taiwan's independence. Then followed the statement that the US supports the requirement that the assent of the Taiwanese people is needed for any change in the status quo.

In the early years of the present administration in Washington, some meaningful changes were made to broaden the range of military equipment that could be sold to Taiwan, and there was a loosening of the limits on venues and time spent in transits through the US. During this time, there has been no visit by a US Cabinet official to Taiwan.

During all three of these administrations, of course, other events have sometimes taken place that improved or restrained the relationship, such as the US encouraging China to engage in dialogue with the Taiwanese government, or efforts to strengthen Taiwan's participation in the international community. However, China has curtailed Taiwan's efforts to do so.

The extent of the changes that have taken place is reaching a point where the rules used by the US to govern its relationship with Taiwan are clearly outdated and not effective, if not counterproductive. China now has the strength to influence its relationship with the US, covering global issues important to the US. With regard to its objectives in Taiwan, China is now very openly and effectively able to counter efforts by Taiwan to maintain its present very limited involvement in international affairs and to gain more recognition in the international community.

For Taiwan, domestically and in terms of cross-strait issues, the change has had a fundamental impact. At a time when new initiatives to strengthen Taiwan's position internationally are needed, the Democratic Progressive Party has not been able to cope with an opposition that barely controls the legislature but is able to block any major objective it wants, while pursuing its own initiatives with Taiwan's adversary.

The opposition's ability to prevent the government from addressing domestic concerns has also greatly undermined the political strength of the ruling party at a time when new initiatives are needed to bolster the economy and strengthen welfare programs. Voter frustration is growing, and if this continues it will inevitably bring a change in government, but may not bring a more stable atmosphere.

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