US President George W. Bush's nomination of National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice to replace Secretary of State Colin Powell will signal no change in US policy toward Taiwan, but will fill the post with someone who believes Washington should play a more active role in pushing Beijing and Taipei toward a resumption of cross-strait dialogue, according to observers in Washington.
The appointment will put in place at the State Department an official who has been Bush's closest foreign policy aide, who is fully in tune with Bush's thinking on China and Taiwan, and whose presence could reduce the chance of mixed messages emanating from Washington to Taiwan.
Significantly, when Bush criticized President Chen Shui-bian (
"Condi Rice and Bush were on the same page last December. That is a policy that Condi Rice supported," said Bonnie Glaser, a senior associate at the Center For Strategic and International Studies.
"What we are going to see is a lot of continuity. Condi really un-derstands what the president is thinking, and she will proceed to implement that," Glaser said.
Irrespective of who is in charge at the State Department, it is Bush who will decide on foreign policy issues, said Michael Fonte, the Democratic Progressive Party's Washington liaison.
"Bush is completely in charge of the US approach to Taiwan. It is really his decision that has put Taiwan to the side and has made China the more important player," he said.
"I see continuity on how the US will continue to lean on Taiwan to cool its jets on issues of independence and sovereignty, and there will be continued pressure for dialogue and discussion," Fonte said.
Hopefully, he added, such dialogue will be on the basis of no preconditions to the talks.
Robert Hathaway, the director of the Asia program at the Wood-row Wilson Center, agrees.
"I don't think you can expect any particular changes. At the end of the day, the US president makes policy," he said.
"In Taiwan's case, Secretary Powell was simply following the direction of the White House," Hathaway said.
However, Rice might be more energetic in trying to push for a resumption of cross-strait dialogue.
"I think we will see Condi supporting a policy of doing more, to try to encourage both sides to think more creatively about how to stabilize the relationship, how to restart dialogue, how to start the three links and confidence building measures," Glaser said.
During her tenure as national security advisor, Rice regularly made her offices open to delegations from Taiwan for discussions of bilateral issues.
While she did not often attend the meetings, her top Asian experts always did, and the Taiwanese visitors universally came away satisfied that their views were listened to and had a positive effect.
Rice's deputy Stephen Hadley usually welcomed Taiwanese visitors who described meetings with him as very comfortable. Hadley has been named by Bush to replace Rice in the security advisor post.
Observers point to Rice's visit to Beijing in July, in which she pointedly and firmly rebuffed Chinese efforts to get Washington to reduce US arms sales to Taiwan. The Bush administration did not expect Beijing to make the arms sales issue the centerpiece of their negotiating strategy.