US choice: principle or realpolitik

By Jerome Keating  / 

Mon, Oct 08, 2007 - Page 8

Thanks to the US Freedom of Information Act, citizens of Taiwan, the US and the world now know how over 30 years ago US secretary of state Henry Kissinger and US president Richard Nixon sold out their ally Taiwan.

In addition to seeking China's support against the USSR, the fawning way that Kissinger speaks of his Chinese counterparts indicates a man so wanting to be known as the one that opened up China for the US that he would do anything to cut a deal. If it meant selling out one-time allies and the founding principles of the US, so be it.

Kissinger's focus on his desired role along with his contorted Machiavellian interpretation of the realpolitik of life clearly comes through. This, and the continued ignorance that most nations have of Taiwan's real history, provide a necessary backdrop when examining the barrage of criticism that US officials have recently directed at Taiwan.

US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte led the way in late August when he stated on Chinese TV that Taiwan's consideration of a referendum for UN membership would upset the nebulous "status quo" of the Taiwan Strait. Evidently only Taiwan is capable of influencing the "status quo." Seen separately, these words are easily interpreted as routine, boilerplate placation of China.

However, Dennis Wilder, the US National Security Council senior director for Asian affairs, upped the ante as US President George W. Bush prepared for the APEC leaders' meeting in Sydney, Australia, last month. Wilder declared that Taiwan is not a state in the international community.

What's that? Do 24 countries not recognize Taiwan as a state and didn't 16 countries vote for Taiwan to enter the UN? Are these countries not part of the international community?

Wilder's more revealing remarks came later, when he admitted that Taiwan has been an undecided matter for a long, long time.

He said: "The position of the United States government is that the ROC -- Republic of China -- is an issue undecided, and it has been left undecided, as you know for many, many years."

Wilder's remarks were accurate, so accurate that they revealed a deeper issue. The US is the cause of the undecided nature of Taiwan and it has done nothing or little to resolve this over the years.

In effect, the unresolved status of the 23 million free and democratic people of Taiwan allows the US to use Taiwan as a pawn, a bargaining chip in its dealings with China. Is this going beyond realpolitik and leading to a betrayal of principles?

The US began to dig this hole back in 1952 with the San Francisco Treaty. At that point in history, few would argue against a strategy where an initial ambiguity in a post World War II atmosphere would be best until a clearer course of action could be decided.

Unfortunately, however, now more than a half century later, the US still finds itself with no clearer course of action. In the meantime, it has dug the hole deeper and deeper while trying to posit Taiwan as the cause of the problem.

During that past half century, the US supported various dictators and also entered Vietnam, purportedly on the grounds of fighting for democracy. Ironically it would later seek help from China to help it extricate itself from Vietnam. This was the decade where Kissinger sold out Taiwan and the hole got deeper.

Let's examine another flash point in the world. The US has long been a loyal ally and supporter of the seven million people of Israel, a country smaller in size and population than Taiwan. The current hatred of the US by Islamic states and the resulting costly war on terrorism has certainly been fueled by this US support for Israel. Has this been done out of principle or realpolitik?

There are no quick or simple answers to determining a course of action between principles and realpolitik, but an understanding of this is crucial to gain perspective on the ludicrous way that US officials now try to lecture Taiwan. Should Taiwan's rights be put on hold because of a problem that others have created?

The misconstrued arguments from US State officials did not end there. US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Thomas Christensen addressed the US-Taiwan Defense Industry Conference with a carefully prepared speech.

Christensen said: "Under President Chen's [陳水扁] leadership, the MND has begun compiling more sophisticated budgets and sought increases in overall funding. For its part the opposition-controlled legislature has performed its role by vetting and passing these budgets, giving the executive branch most of what it requested," he said.

What is the source of Christensen's information, Taiwan's pan-blue media? Taiwan's pan-blue dominated legislature has refused budgets without discussion close to a hundred times.

It has done this not out of responsibility but simply with the recalcitrant aim of embarrassing Taiwan's president.

Christensen further said: "A Taiwan that can defend itself is a major factor for peace."

Ironically, when a token budget finally was passed, then the US denied Taiwan's request for F-16 fighter jets to defend itself.

The US State Department and the president do not seem to be on the same page.

Christensen still went on, "A strong Taiwan can also negotiate with Beijing with greater confidence and thereby pursue more effectively durable, equitable arrangements for cross-Strait peace."

Has Christensen never heard Beijing's repeated demands that before negotiations can begin, Taiwan must first admit it belongs to Beijing and must submit to it?

Next the symbolic code was brought up.

"The simple reality is that, in the world of cross-strait relations, political symbolism matters, and disagreements over it could be the source of major tensions or even conflict," he said.

Christensen indicated that he believes that China has drawn a line in the sand over its interpretation of a spurious symbolic code and names.

Who let China define the terms? What idiocy is it that would let the world go to war because of a disagreement over names?

The rhetoric and tone Christensen uses indicate that yet another secret Kissinger-like deal exists between the US and China. This bears examination. Do we now have a world where two hegemonic powers have gotten together and agreed to parcel out the freedom of countries smaller than them?

It is idiotic enough that a cabal of unelected leaders in China who autocratically operate with no transparency try to dictate that they can set the symbolic code for the world; it is even more idiotic that someone would make a deal with them and allow it.

Christensen continued that the US has strenuously made efforts to give Taiwan a place in the world and that President Chen and Taiwan were ruining its efforts.

Someone please point out the specifics: What exactly has the US done and what results can be seen? Consider what would be the result if the US had treated Israel in the way it has treated Taiwan.

If Israel's president were snubbed and only allowed to land in Alaska while the US president received Arab leaders from around the world and then Christensen told Israel, "We are doing our best to give you a place in the world," what guffaws and catcalls would follow? Would he not be booed off the stage?

Christensen ignored history and tried to place the blame on Taiwan's president and the UN referendum. The UN Referendum was a "bad public policy initiative" that was "wrapped in the flag of democracy." If one just happened in at that moment, one might wonder if Christensen were talking about the Iraq War and President Bush.

Christensen no doubt felt he was sending the message his superiors wanted in his carefully prepared speech.

Unfortunately, in its belabored way, it demonstrated the US State Department's lack of wisdom, vision and consistency and its lack of balance between principles and realpolitik.

Those whose sense of history goes back to the Treaty of San Francisco and all that followed know that the source of the problem here is not President Chen Shui-bian.

With no real clue as to what is happening on the ground in Taiwan, the US State Department has only listened to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) who wined and dined them in the days of dictator Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and his son, president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國).

It has never had sincere, realistic contact with the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the people of Taiwan they represent.

Taiwan is being asked to take responsibility for the hole that the US has dug. China's provocative assertions and claims over the democratic people of Taiwan and its provocative pile of missiles against Taiwan are more harmful to the "status quo" and the peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait than any statements or actions made by Taiwan.

The issue is freedom and dignity. Some express fear over Taiwan's use of the word sovereignty, but what defines sovereignty if dictators can use the word to justify their despotic claim to land while free men are denied the same expression?

Some express fear over Taiwan's use of the word independence, but what is independence if it is not the fruit of democracy?

Some express fears of all sorts and in that try to tell free men to be silent about what is really going on. Is this Taiwan's fault? Or does the blame more appropriately fall on China and its useful idiots?

Jerome Keating is a Taiwan-based writer.