For quite some time, Taiwan and the US have not seen eye to eye over the proposed referendum on Taiwan's application for UN membership under the name "Taiwan." The US has blamed Taiwan for being aggressive and not giving due consideration to the US' needs in the Iraq war and the war on terror. Taiwan, on the other hand, complains that it is precisely the US' preoccupation with those two wars that has caused it to neglect the survival crisis facing Taiwan. Trust between the two parties is at a low, and the US feels Taiwan's president has violated his "four noes" promise, while Taiwan feels the US keeps changing its expectations.
Some commentators feel the current problems in this relationship are the result of differing views of the "status quo." That, however, has always been the case, so the problem isn't that there is a difference in the way the two sides interpret the "status quo," but rather how they respond to and deal with the differences between their interpretations. Can the US and Taiwan communicate or will the situation deteriorate and lead to a crisis.
A review of the developments in relations between the US and Japan and the US and South Korea holds many lessons. When the Cold War ended and the US-Japanese alliance lost its main enemy, the Soviet Union, mutual trust between the two was at a low because of economic competition. However, the two countries did not let factors such as the views or actions of a single leader obscure their view of the larger context.
They instead resolved their problems by recognizing the structural changes in the situation. This approach led to a redefinition of the US-Japanese alliance in 1996. The alliance and its role in the post-Cold War era were redefined, thus laying a foundation for its rapid future development.
When the US and South Korea, also alliance partners, were faced with similar problems, the main focus was placed on individual leaders and there was not enough structural analysis of the situation. The US felt that President Roh Moo-hyun's government was anti-US while the South Koreans felt that President George W. Bush's administration was dangerous because of its neoconservatism.
As a result, the North Korean nuclear issue has developed into a strategic division between the US and South Korea. This has complicated negotiations with North Korea.
People analyzing the state of US-Taiwan relations are liable to misjudge the situation.
The pan-blue camp, pro-China media and some allegedly pan-green commentators believe that President Chen Shui-bian (
The implication is that a change in leadership will smooth out the wrinkles in our relationship with the US, and we have even seen the presidential candidates jump on the bandwagon by promising their visions for Taiwan would differ from Chen's leadership style.
Instead, let's look at recent history. If we analyze Taiwan-US relations since Taiwan's democratization, we see that the US has toward the end of each four-year presidential term in Taiwan, accused the incumbent of being a troublemaker.
This was true of former Chinese Nationalist Party president Lee Teng-hui (
This is also why it is more fruitful to try to understand the structural changes in the relationship between the US, China and Taiwan on the one hand and the situation in the Asia-Pacific region on the other than it is to discuss Chen's personal contributions to or influence on the US-Taiwan relationship.
Taiwan has developed into a democratic state and a major world economy, China is rapidly becoming a great power although the US is still the lone superpower, but occupied with its "war on terrorism." The relationship between these three states has changed dramatically since the Cold War, meaning that Taiwan-US relations as we once knew them are unable to deal with the complex and transformed situation.
We must understand this to understand why Chen and former senior US officials Michael Green and Randy Schriver all responded to the disagreement over the UN referendum proposal by suggesting a review of the structure of the existing relationship between Taiwan and the US and recommended that talks between Taiwan and the US occur at a higher level.
Lai I-chung is head of the Democratic Progressive Party's Department of International Affairs.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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