Disclosure a betrayal of mutually held trust

By Nat Bellocchi 白樂崎  / 

Thu, Sep 22, 2011 - Page 8

During her visit to Washington last week, Democratic Progressive Party Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) was well-received, meeting administration officials, speaking at think tanks such as the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute, and being welcomed at a rousing reception by members of the US Congress.

On each occasion, she discussed her policies and outlined the major issues that play a role in her presidential election campaign.

In particular, she held out an outstretched hand toward China, urging it to work on engagement on the basis of mutual respect.

By all accounts, her approach was considered reasonable, responsible and constructive.

So it came as a lightning bolt out of the clear blue sky that the Financial Times, in a report last Thursday, quoted a “senior” US official as saying that Tsai “left us with distinct doubts about whether she is both willing and able to continue the stability in cross-strait relations the region has enjoyed in recent years.”

Although the US Department of State disavowed the statement the same day, saying that “the ‘official’ mentioned in the article is totally unknown to us and certainly does not speak for the Obama administration,” the damage was done, as Tsai’s opponents jumped on the comments.

Let me explain why I think the comments quoted in the Financial Times were extremely wrongheaded, unacceptable and outright stupid.

First, it is a betrayal of the mutual trust that is both implicit and explicit in having a closed-door meeting with foreign dignitaries. It is a customary practice to only acknowledge that a meeting was held and to say that there was an exchange of views.

We always impress on our foreign visitors that an open discussion can only be held if the content remains between the participants. The official quoted in the Financial Times had committed a serious breach of confidence.

Second, the statement by the “senior” official reflects a fundamental problem in the way many think about the cross-strait issue — they are letting China dictate the terms of what is considered “stability.”

As I have written earlier, the present “stability” is a fiction, as it is giving Beijing the impression that it will in due time get its way, absorbing Taiwan into its orbit.

The reality is that Beijing itself is the source of instability: It has more 1,400 missiles pointed at Taiwan and has threatened to use force if Taiwan doesn’t move into its fold.

So, if the US wants real stability, it needs to lean much harder on China and convince it to accept Taiwan for what it is: a free democracy in which the people choose their own government and president.

Third, the statement quoted in the Financial Times represents an unacceptable intrusion in Taiwan’s domestic politics. As the State Department subsequently said, US President Barack Obama’s “administration does not take sides in Taiwan’s [or any country’s] election. It’s up to the people of Taiwan to choose their own leaders in an election.”

Tsai and her moderate and reasonable approach present a key opportunity to move toward true stability in the Taiwan Strait.

The US needs to nurture and respect that approach and allow the democratic process in that young democracy to run its full course.

That would be in keeping with the basic principles on which the US is founded.

Nat Bellocchi is a former chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan. The views expressed in this article are his own.