Sun, Dec 05, 2004 - Page 2 News List

Nation's man in DC upbeat on ties

STARS ALIGNEDWith likely political consolidation in Taiwan, China and the US, resumption of cross-strait dialogue could happen next year, David Lee argues

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

Taiwan's de facto ambassador to Washington, David Lee (李大維), says he expects next year and 2006 to be a "window of opportunity" for the resumption of cross-strait dialogue, with the US playing the role of "facilitator."

He said the window could begin after next week's legislative elections are completed.

That election would complete a year of important political changes in all three parties involved -- Taiwan, China and the US -- and usher in a period free of elections.

Such electoral periods focus attention on domestic, rather that foreign affairs, and tend to limit the scope for discussion of sensitive issues, Lee said.

Over the past year, he noted, the US and Taiwan have gone through both presidential and legislative elections, and, in China, President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) has consolidated his position by taking over the chairmanship of the Central Military Commission with the resignation of Jiang Zemin (江澤民).

That made this year "a difficult year" in cross-strait relations, said Lee, whose title is representative of the Taipei economic and Cultural Representative Office in Washington.

"But in 2005 and 2006, we hope that we will see some window of opportunity to resume dialogue across the Taiwan Strait," Lee said in a luncheon address at a George Washington University symposium on Taiwan and Cross-Strait Relations in Washington on Friday.

With Hu and premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) having enhanced their political positions, "I hope the leadership in China may seek this opportunity to engage in some substantive discussions," he said.

Such talks could be in the spirit of the 1992 Hong Kong formula in which both sides "set aside all controversial issues and instead engaged in discussions of substance."

While Washington has shunned the idea of acting as a mediator for such talks, Lee said that Washington "will probably choose to play the role of facilitator."

Lee also addressed the lingering concern in Washington over President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) political statements and actions in recent years.

He recalled that in the late 1980s and the 1990s, Taiwan was lauded "as an emerging democracy, a shining example of ... economic prosperity and democratization."

However, in the past four months since he arrived in Washington in late July to replace Chen Chien-jen (程建人), he said, he has "heard so many different voices" in Washington about Chen Shui-bian's policies and plans.

"In recent months, I have heard some criticism, blaming Taiwan for some of regional tensions, which I do not share," he said.

Lee conceded that many people in Washington feel that Taiwan's political "growing pains" are continuing.

He responded that "you have to realize that it has not been very easy, it has been a long way for Taiwan to reach where we are. The most important thing for us is to stick with the goal of democratization ... However, in the meantime, we have to do something to help alleviate some of the concerns, and the issues that exist between Washington and Taipei."

He also noted that "there is still a lot of concern in official Washington as well as in the think tanks and the academic community" about Chen's plans for constitutional reform.

"After the legislative election, the government will work with the US government, we will work with the people in the think tanks and the academic community to let you know better how we are going to approach constitutional reform." Lee said.

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