President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) appointment of Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) as Taiwan's representative to the US could help reverse the decline in the influence of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) in Washington over the past decade, according to a US congressional report issued on Friday.
The report, by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), says that the drop in TECRO's status is largely due to Chen's distrust of the Washington office. But it also says other factors are responsible, including the proliferation of competing voices for Taiwan in the US capital and political divisions back home.
The 33-page report, Underlying Strains in Taiwan-US Political Relations, was prepared to inform members of Congress and congressional committees about the factors that members of Congress have to know about as they consider legislative and policy initiatives toward Taiwan. It was written by Kerry Dumbaugh, the CRS' top specialist in Taiwan's political affairs.
The report notes that the appointment of Wu, the first representative to be a member of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and a "close associate of President Chen," could improve the quality of communications between Washington and Taipei, boosting TECRO's position and easing some communication problems experienced in the recent past.
"The 2000 Taiwan presidential election significantly altered TECRO's status as Taiwan's full representative in the United States," the report says. "The current DPP administration in Taiwan is thought to have been suspicious that both TECRO generally and more specifically, its several chief representatives since 2000, have allegiances primarily to the former [Chinese Nationalist Party] KMT ruling party."
As a result, us observers feel that Chen has not trusted TECRO to be a "faithful communicator of the government's message in the United States or to present an accurate picture of US views to Chen administration officials," the report says.
Some observers feel the problem could be traced to the Lee Teng-hui (
The DPP expects that Wu's appointment, "will permit President Chen's messages to Washington to be interpreted more precisely, a circumstance that they claim will reduce misunderstandings between Taiwan and the United States," the CRS report says.
TECRO's reduced status is also closely tied to political differences in Taiwan, according to the CRS. Taiwan's representative in Washington "is hard-pressed to be focused and persuasive when the message it is trying to convey is as divided and mixed as is that of Taiwan's current political environment."
While TECRO was once the single point of bilateral contact, now it is "`just one data-point in a set' that includes the DPP's and KMT's own representatives in Washington; analysts from select American think tanks and academic institutions; pro-independence-minded organizations like the Formosa Association for Public Affairs (FAPA); those favoring closer and more congenial Taiwan-PRC relations; officials from AIT [the American Institute on Taiwan] and the US government and members of Congress," the report said.
The KMT and People First party (PFP) in 2004 set up a joint office in Washington with Jason Yuan as its representative. The DPP is represented by Michael Fonte, who acts as a party consultant.
The report also points to the harm to bilateral relations caused by political divisions in Taiwan, resulting in conflicting messages being sent to policymakers in Washington and splitting a once united "Taiwan lobby."
The problem, ironically, is the direct result of Taiwan's democratic evolution, it said.
A "major factor affecting US-Taiwan relations," the report says, "is the dissipation of the once powerful `Taiwan lobby' which according to several knowledgeable observers is a pale shadow of its former self."
"Ironically, the fragmentation of the Taiwan lobby can be traced to the development of full democracy and political pluralism in Taiwan, which began the erosion of the organized, unified KMT `machine' that once acted on behalf of Taiwan's interests in the United States," it said.
As a result, "there is no longer a single, coordinated `Taiwan' point of view presented to US officials and members of Congress. Now, there are multiple Taiwan messages from a variety of messengers often seeking to denigrate the requests or messages from other sources," it said.
This and "the carrying on of Taiwan's domestic political infighting in the congressional arena has had a negative affect in some congressional offices," the report said.
The report quotes Steve Yates, a former aide to US Vice President Dick Cheney, as advising Taiwan's politicians to "develop better appreciation for and experience with democratic institutions in order to move beyond the point where the `chief political strategy is pouting in perpetuity at your opponent.'"
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