Earlier this month, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) made a 10-day trip to visit Paraguay and Costa Rica. The government asked Washington for permission to stop over in New York or a city in California, but the Bush administration merely offered a brief refueling stopover at Anchorage or Honolulu, without overnight stay. Chen then opted to transit through Abu Dhabi and Amsterdam on his way to Latin America and stopped over in Lybia and Batam, Indonesia, on the return trip. On the first leg of the trip, Chen’s plane was in the air for 37 hours, at one point not knowing where to land for refueling when the planned stop at Beirut was denied due to Beijing’s intervention. This transit saga was most disconcerting and humiliating to the Taiwanese people as well as the Taiwanese-American community in the US.
Various reasons have been offered for the US snub of Chen: that in view of Chinese President Hu Jintao’s inauspicious visit to the White House on April 20, the US State Department wanted to make amends by downgrading Chen’s transit, or that Washington needed China’s cooperation on the Iran resolution before the UN Security Council and this was a tradeoff. The most authentic reason, however, was given by US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick in his testimony at the House International Relations Committee on May 10.
In response to a complaint about the treatment of Chen by Representative Thomas Tancredo, US Secretary of State Robert Zoellick said:
“What President Chen has said to us is that his word is good, and that the things he has committed to the United States he has followed up on ... It’s very important, if people do give their word, whatever their basis, that they keep it.”
“When some political figures ... decide they want to either change their word, or go back from something, or push the edge of an envelope that could lead to conflict, well then, yes, our government will respond,” he said.
Zoellick said in effect that the snubbing of Chen was a response to Chen’s cessation of the National Unification Council (NUC).
When Tancredo mentioned the precondition for Chen’s five noes pledge in his 2000 inaugural speech, Zoellick’s retort was that the precondition was “provided China doesn’t use force to attack. Now that may be a summary of it, but China hasn’t used force to attack.” Here Zoellick misstated Chen’s precondition in a substantive way. The actual language was “provided China doesn’t intend to use force against Taiwan.” The key word is “intent.”
China has modernized the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and has targeted more than 800 missiles against Taiwan, with the focused aim of attacking the nation if it drags its feet in surrendering its sovereignty. China has enacted an Anti-Secession Law authorizing the PLA to launch an attack at a time of its choosing. These actions clearly indicate China’s intent to use force. Beijing has also stated many times that it reserves the right to resort to force. The precondition for Chen’s five noes has been destroyed by Beijing. The US has no valid basis for pressuring Chen to keep the five noes promise while Washington is unable to compel Beijing to renounce the use of force and to cease its fierce efforts to prepare for war.
Representative Diane Watson met Chen in Costa Rica, where the president told her that Taiwan had been slighted and that he felt hurt. The Congresswoman was embarrassed and protested to Zoellick that denying an overnight transit showed a lack of respect for any leader of any country, and queried whether the State Department was “playing with Taiwan” for the benefit of the Chinese. Zoellick replied: “We make our own decisions. We don’t clear them with China.”