Activists urge Clinton to be ‘neutral’

By William Lowther and J. Michael Cole  /  Staff reporters in WASHINGTON and TAIPEI

Fri, Nov 12, 2010 - Page 1

Sixteen Taiwanese-American organizations urged former US president Bill Clinton in a letter to be “scrupulously neutral” politically when he visits Taipei this weekend.

The signatories fear that Clinton, who will be in Taiwan making a paid speech on Sunday, could be misrepresented as endorsing the policies of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration.

“Many topics, such as the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement [ECFA], have turned into sensitive campaign issues,” the letter said, in reference to the hotly contested Nov. 27 special municipality elections.

The Ma administration, it said, has frequently used foreign visitors to give the impression that its policies of accommodation with China have “reduced tension” across the Taiwan Strait.

“In our view, this is a flawed and superficial argument,” it said. “China lessened its threats only because the Ma administration has made Taiwan subservient. In fact, the number of missiles China targets at Taiwan has increased.”

It will be Clinton’s first visit to Taiwan since February 2005, when he charged NT$8 million (US$258,000) to make a speech. On that occasion, tickets to attend a book-signing event for his autobiography, My Life, were NT$10,000.

The letter warned Clinton that the Ma administration has “drifted in China’s direction” at the expense of freedom and human rights, adding that he should speak out openly and forcefully for Taiwan’s democracy during his visit.

“We are apprehensive that unwittingly your visit may be used by the Ma administration to score political points,” it said. “If a meeting with President Ma Ying-jeou is entertained, we hope you will also grant an audience to Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen [蔡英文] of the Democratic Progressive Party.”

The letter reminded Clinton that in February 2000 he declared that the issues between Beijing and Taiwan “must be resolved peacefully and with the assent of the people of Taiwan” and implored him to repeat this statement.

Among the letter’s signatories were Terri Giles, executive director of the Formosa Foundation; Linda Lin (林純容), president of the Formosan Association for Human Rights; Bob Yang (楊英育), president of the Formosan Association for Public Affairs; and James Chen (陳少明), chairman of World United Formosans for Independence-USA.

Clinton’s visit comes after unsuccessful attempts by former US president George W. Bush and former House speaker Newt Gingrich to visit Taiwan earlier this year.

The Taipei Times has learned that Bush had initially intended to visit Shanghai, Hong Kong and Taipei, but after his office in Dallas, Texas, allegedly received multiple protests from Chinese officials, the former president’s office said Bush could skip Shanghai and Hong Kong altogether and visit only Taiwan.

Chinese officials then allegedly changed their strategy and shifted the pressure onto Taipei, whereupon the latter allegedly asked Bush to reconsider the timing of his visit, in reference to the Nov. 27 elections.

According to a source, Bush’s visit would not have received any funding from the Taiwanese government.

The Taipei Times has also learned that Gingrich’s visit, which would have been sponsored by a private firm, was initially planned for between June and August, and that the former speaker could not come to Taiwan any later than September, given the midterm elections in the US earlier this month.

After a series of delays, organizers allegedly appealed to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Presidential Office, but approval for the visit was received four months later, by which time Gingrich could no longer visit Taiwan.