Fri, Nov 10, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Don't bother reading US tea leaves

Political analysts look for changes in the Taiwan-US relationship after even the most insignificant events, so it is not surprising that they will jump into overdrive after a major development such as the US midterm election.

There is, however, a distinction between making a necessary assessment of an altered political dynamic and the irrational self-absorption with which many commentators approach this country's relationship with Washington.

Evidence of this can be seen daily, when reporters from Taiwan's major Chinese-language dailies pester the US State Department spokesman for comments about cross-strait ties or the Taiwan-US relationship. Approaching the subject from a position that is hopelessly egocentric and naive, the reporters ask such improbable and ridiculous questions as: "Is the US worried that President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) daughter's visit to Los Angeles [will] destabilize the cross-strait situation?"

The answer, of course, is an emphatic "no." No serious US bureaucrat or politician has the slightest interest in the minutiae of Taiwanese politics or the petty partisan one-upmanship that characterizes the bulk of political "discourse" in this country.

So the State Department spokesman, whoever the unlucky individual happens to be, smiles with chagrin and restates rote US policy for the umpteenth time in response to an utterly absurd question.

The Taiwanese media can be forgiven for its lack of perspective, because the political establishment here encourages the kind of inbred thinking that we see every day on the TV news. It is merely the nature of things: Flowers bloom in spring, and politicians seek validation from every possible source.

So when the usual commentators start putting their cutting insights into print, telling us how the US election is good for the pan-blues, or good for the pan-greens, or good for Taiwan, or bad for Taiwan, or whatever their formulation might be, we would do well to remember that the election will probably have very little impact on US-Taiwan relations.

There are manifold reasons for this, but primarily it is because Taiwan is on the periphery of political debate in the US. American voters and politicians are worried about a lot of things, but on the whole, Taiwan isn't foremost among them.

One might argue that this is a good thing: It isn't necessarily a blessing to be the recipient of the US political establishment's attentions. But the salient point for Taiwan is that its support among the US public and in Congress is not a partisan affair; it is an ideological one. The Americans who are willing to step up to the plate for this country do so for a variety of reasons, some noble and some selfish.

The common ideological thread that most of these people share, however, is support for Taiwan's right to self-determination. That support will continue so long as Taiwanese show that they are interested in their own future. This is why the US State Department isn't interested in taking sides in the current brouhaha over the president. From the US' point of view, it is immaterial which Taiwanese political party or faction has the upper hand from week to week.

The important question relates to process. There is a vast difference between red-clad rabble-rousers bringing down the president using mob rule, and a prosecutor bringing down the president using legal means. The more rabid extremists may not see this, but we must hope that these people remain where they belong: on the fringe of popular opinion.

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