Thu, Jul 26, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Hsieh's gray area of reassurance

By Liu Kuan-teh 劉冠德

When it comes to elections in Taiwan, the role of the US should never be overlooked. While US President George W. Bush's administration may not publicly endorse any individual candidate, the way it treats Taiwan's presidential hopefuls can often be politicized here at home.

That explains why local media are so interested in reporting which members of the Bush administration met Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Frank Hsieh during his recent trip to Washington.

But what is most important for Hsieh is portraying himself as a moderate and responsible leader while reassuring the US that mutual trust between Taipei and Washington can be rebuilt if he is elected president.

In other words, it is not just a trip of "image-building" but most importantly a journey of "clarification and reassurance."

Though Hsieh refused to unveil any information about his closed-door meetings with officials in Washington, he is expected to clarify any discussions of the most sensitive issue -- President Chen Sui-bian's (陳水扁) use of the name "Taiwan" to apply for UN membership.

Since the Bush administration has publicly stated it opposed such a move and urged Chen to display responsibility by keeping his promises to not change the cross-strait "status quo," Hsieh will have to decide if he endorses such a policy.

Apparently there is no legitimate reason for Hsieh to reverse such a political course. During the DPP primary, the Hsieh camp emphasized that he advocated Taiwan's participation in the UN almost two decades ago and he has never reversed his stance. However, after winning the nomination, Hsieh said there is a need to engage in more candid communication with Washington on this matter. Therefore, Hsieh's challenge will be to strike a balance between sticking to his principles and communicating with his US counterparts to straighten things out.

Moreover, Hsieh must convince the Bush administration he can do a better job than his Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) rival Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), as well as introduce a somewhat different leadership style to that of Chen.

There is no doubt that Washington's trust of Chen has eroded in the past three years. Most US officials believed Chen took bold steps toward policies such as holding a national referendum, abolishing the National Unification Council and Guidelines and stating the so-called "four wants and one imperative" in a surprising manner without properly informing the Bush administration. Given that Washington needs Beijing's cooperation on issues related to Iraq and North Korea, conventional wisdom has it that Chen should exercise leadership by not making trouble for the US.

However, such a view is erroneous. As potentially the next leader of Taiwan, Hsieh should seize the opportunity to reinforce the fact that Taiwan's steps toward democratic consolidation were bottom-up approaches and a manifestation of Taiwanese free will. No single political leader or party can manipulate such a grass-roots movement. How to forge normal and peaceful cross-strait relations is the key issue that separates the Hsieh and Ma campaign agendas. Hsieh's toughest task is to convince the Bush administration that he can exercise his political philosophy of seeking "reconciliation and co-existence" while at the same time safeguarding Taiwan's sovereignty and national security.

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