Taiwan may not have official diplomatic ties with the US, but this shouldn't mean that Taiwan's president, or his successor next year, should be treated with any less respect by US officials.
A quick assessment of American Institute in Taiwan Chairman Raymond Burghardt's comments during his visit to Taipei this week demonstrates that the US government still has much to learn about showing respect to the president of a democracy.
Burghardt regurgitated Washington's opposition to the Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) referendum on joining the UN under the name "Taiwan" and expressed the US administration's concerns over the consequences of a successful referendum for cross-strait stability during his meeting with President Chen Shui-bian (
After telling local reporters on Monday that "all it [the referendum] does is cause trouble," Burghardt -- in an overtly condescending manner -- told Chen that what the latter had said and done with the referendum could "harm the new president's ability to get off on the right foot." He added that the referendum would not only make things difficult for the next president but make things even more complicated if it passes.
Just because Taiwan lacks official diplomatic ties with the US and is not recognized as a state by the UN does not give Burghardt license to lecture Chen on what he should and should not do, nor draw red lines for the next president on how he should proceed on cross-strait policy.
Even if the referendum does pass in January it would only be a reflection of the people's will to see Taiwan join the UN under the name "Taiwan." One therefore wonders why it should be so offensive for a president to follow the will of the people who elected him.
Burghardt said the result of the referendum would not change Washington's "one China" policy. That's fine, for Taiwan is an independent state with its own territory and currency and a government that is answerable only to Taiwanese.
The referendum is not an attempt to influence US policy.
The US government has often complained about Chen springing surprises on Washington by making sudden announcements and that the DPP administration has failed to understand US policy. Granted, Chen has a tendency to make extemporary remarks that warrant more care.
But beyond that, the lack of official diplomatic links -- and the calisthenics that this situation has forced Taiwanese diplomats to perform just to talk to their US counterparts -- is the principal reason why Taipei hasn't been able to "get" US policy. Give us direct access and all that ambiguity, all those misunderstandings, will vanish.
Taiwan cherishes and takes very seriously its relationship with the US.
But by the same token, the US should respect Taiwan and let its elected president do his job -- represent Taiwanese and work for their collective good.
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