On Wednesday, Representative to the US Jason Yuan (袁健生) presented a report on the current state of Taiwan-US relations to the legislature’s Foreign and National Defense Committee. In 2004, Yuan, who was then the representative of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) in Washington, was the man responsible for ensuring every US senator and House representative received a copy of a KMT pamphlet entitled Bulletgate, which outlined the party’s suspicions about the shooting of then-president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) that March.
In light of this, it must have been interesting for Yuan to return to Taiwan and make his report so soon after “Bulletgate II” — the election-eve shooting of KMT politician Sean Lien (連勝文).
Unlike the first incident, Yuan was not on this occasion instructed by KMT leaders to send pamphlets to US politicians, academics and overseas Chinese charging that the shooting was staged and the election fraudulent, or calling on the president to resign. Neither have today’s opposition parties followed the KMT’s example of washing Taiwan’s dirty linen in public. If he had been asked to do the same thing again, Yuan, who likes to be called “ambassador,” would have been too busy to make this year-end visit to Taiwan.
Washington is far from Taiwan, and that gives Yuan leeway to do things his own way, but when visiting the legislature in Taiwan he should have presented a thorough account of current Taiwan-US relations. He should have told his audience what his present and future work priorities are and what kinds of targets can be realistically achieved. Otherwise, to borrow the words of former Ambassador to the Vatican Raymond Tai (戴瑞明), he ought to be embarrassed at receiving the generous pay, allowances and other perks enjoyed by Taiwan’s diplomatic personnel overseas. Considering the importance for the US to Taiwan’s security, no-one wants to see our representative in Washington behaving as a political mercenary. Unfortunately, the report presented by our top diplomat on this occasion was as bland as a cup of hot water without the tealeaves.
Let us consider how Taiwan-US relations have developed under the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九). In the US-China Joint Statement released by US President Barack Obama’s administration in November last year, China called on the US to respect its “core interests,” including the issue of Taiwan and, by implication, Tibet and Xinjiang.
Following the “three noes” policy outlined by then-US president Bill Clinton during his visit to China in 1998, the wording of last year’s joint statement did further injury to Taiwan, but what was our representative office in Washington doing at the time? Not only did it have no prior idea about the content of the statement, but, after it was released, and following a number of explanations from the US side, the office declared it to be the fullest and clearest account of Taiwan policy ever made by the US.
The representative office had nothing to say about how to get the US to acknowledge Taiwan’s existence or how to persuade it not to further sacrifice Taiwan’s interests to curry favor with China. In such circumstances one cannot help but wonder whether the office is really there to represent Taiwan, or just to report back the viewpoint of the US government. One also wonders whether the representative office has given thought to why such “accidents” happen and how they might be avoided in future.
Following Obama’s China trip and the US-China Joint Statement, Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) will visit the US next year. This may well be Hu’s last visit to the US before he steps down. Even if, as Yuan says, there will be no further statement or communique; on that occasion, one still has to ask how the US and China intend their relations to develop. What historical mark does Hu want to make with his visit? What kind of parting gift does the US want to give him? How well informed is our representative office in Washington about these issues? Shouldn’t our representative be able to give the legislature a more substantial report?
In his report, Yuan said that Taiwan and the US would strengthen cooperation on judicial matters and national security, negotiate an extradition agreement and lay the foundation for Taiwan’s inclusion in the list of countries whose passport holders enjoy visa-free entry to the US. However, Yuan indicated that Taiwan will first have to sign agreements with the US on cooperation in fighting crime, exchanging information about terrorist activities and the instant sharing of information about the loss or theft of passports. After these three agreements are signed, and if they are implemented to the satisfaction of both sides, Taiwan may be able to become a “candidate” for visa exemption.
After hearing this, any normal person would conclude that visa-free entry for Taiwanese citizens is still a long way off. Not Yuan, though. When asked by the media whether Taiwanese would get visa-free entry to the US next year, which is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of China, he said there was some hope of that. Perhaps we should make this a test of Yuan’s competence. If the representative office under his direction fails to secure visa-free entry for Taiwanese next year, it may be time for him to step down and let someone else have a go.
Political appointees in the civil service should have a modicum of self-respect and avoid making irresponsible statements. People have not forgotten that last year’s protocol on US beef imports to Taiwan, which stirred up such a fuss, was signed by none other than Yuan. Considering the Ma administration’s negotiating skills, as exemplified by the beef deal, who would believe that it can get three major agreements signed with the US and achieve visa exemption within one year?
It seems our government is full of people who make empty promises, and where leaders lead, so will their minions follow.
Having declared a “diplomatic truce,” the Ma administration has signed no fewer than 14 agreements with China, and the fifteenth is scheduled to be signed next week when Straits Exchange Foundation (海基會) Chairman Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤) and Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (海協會) Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) meet in Taipei. In contrast, a proposed trade and investment framework agreement between Taiwan and the US remains on the drawing board, and agreement by the US to sell Taiwan F-16C/D fighters, a key requirement for the enhancement of Taiwan’s defensive capabilities, remains a distant prospect.
How much time is our man in Washington devoting to these matters, when he’s not busy with banquets and rounds of golf? That’s what he really should be telling us in his report.
As a president who cares more about appearances than substance, Ma may not be too concerned about the current state of Taiwan-US relations, but he certainly is concerned about slogans that might persuade people to vote him into a second term of office in 2012. With no more “bulletgates” to play with, what plans does the Ma administration have to develop Taiwan-US relations, and what practical results will it have to show for its efforts when polling time comes around? Up to now, at least, its achievements in this respect have woefully failed to make up for the damage done by last year’s US-China Joint Statement.
TRANSLATED BY JULIAN CLEGG
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