Washington's effectiveness at twisting Taiwan's arm hinges on the fractured nature of politics in Taiwan. If the US' latest objections to President Chen Shui-bian's (
When the referendum to enter the UN promoted by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) passes it just may mark a watershed moment in Taiwan-US relations.
It could signify the beginning of Taiwanese resolve to reclaim whatever residual control Washington still possesses over Taiwan. Much like holding free elections, referendums are another powerful tool that can be used in the struggle for further democratization.
Making the exercise of what should be a routine democratic process difficult is the inordinate number of external political headwinds. But these dynamics at times work in fortuitous ways, considering that the main catalyst responsible for the present drive for Taiwan's statehood could turn out to be none other than Beijing's relentless compression of Taiwan's international space.
To begin with, Beijing has blocked Taiwan's every move to join international bodies -- including the WHO and the UN -- that make sovereignty a pre-requisite for membership.
Taiwan's efforts to expand its membership in these bodies have invariably failed at the insistence of a ranting and bullying from Beijing.
Further exacerbating Taiwan's isolation and therefore threatening the nation's sovereignty is the dwindling number of nations that recognize Taiwan.
In response, the clamor for an affirmation of sovereignty has risen to an unprecedented level.
Where public sentiment is involved as in this case, further escalation of coercion by Bei-jing and Washington would most likely not only fall on deaf ears, but also cause a backlash.
In addition, the US State Department is reluctant to take Taiwan's democracy seriously.
The fact has not escaped Taiwanese attention that, when Washington forced Chen to make undemocratic promises such as his infamous "four noes and one without," Washington regarded Chen as a dictator much like the Chiangs.
Referendums would be the perfect forum for Taiwanese to make themselves and their democracy heard.
Washington's intention of putting a ceiling on Taiwan's democracy is often explained as necessary for regional stability. In reality, Washington is fully aware that only a sovereign and democratic Taiwan could anchor a stable Western Pacific region as long as China remains under the grip of the Chinese Communist Party.
Washington nonetheless appears to be content with manipulating Beijing's desire to take Taiwan to serve Washington's own interests, while keeping Taiwan's democracy contained.
Meanwhile, the sentiment of Taiwanese remains the wild card over which both Washington and Beijing have scant control.