Sun, May 07, 2006 - Page 3 News List

Transit spat likely to harm ties, experts say

By Chang Yun-ping and Nadia Tsao  /  STAFF REPORTER IN TAIPEI AND WASHINGTON

The spat over the US' rejection of President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) request to transit in the continental US for his state visit to Latin America will deal a temporary blow to Taiwan-US relations, but in the long run, ties should remain firm given the intricate bilateral interests shared by the US and Taiwan, political commentators said.

In a move that was seen as displeasure at the US' rejection of Chen's request to transit through the US mainland, Chen instead made surprise stopovers in Abu Dhabi and Amsterdam instead of going through Anchorage, Alaska, on the way to Paraguay.

Chen initially wanted to make stopovers in New York, San Francisco or Miami before continuing on to Paraguay and Costa Rica, but the US only offered Hawaii and Anchorage as options.

The president said the reason for the rejection was to uphold the country's dignity, but the move has caused many at home to speculate about what they view as deteriorating Taiwan-US relations.

Minister of Foreign Affairs James Huang (黃志芳) also blamed Washington for leaking information that Chen had decided not to travel via Anchorage, which resulted in the failure of the president's attempt to stop in Beirut, Lebanon.

Alexander Huang (黃介正), director of the Graduate Institute of American Studies at Tamkang University, yesterday said that Taipei should calm down and avoid employing a "tit-for-tat" strategy.

"We need a more balanced approach when we engage with the US," he said.

Confrontation unwise

Alexander Huang, who formerly served as deputy chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council and as a senior consultant to the Taipei Economic and Culture Representat-ive Office, said it wouldn't be wise for Taiwan to confront the US, as both countries have many overlapping interests, particularly in the face of a rising China.

"International relations are about power. They're not like laws where you can always ask for fairness," he said.

He said the unhappy interlude resulting from Chen's decision to call off the stop in Anchorage should not be a major issue and would not cause a backlash in US-Taiwan relations. Rather, what the US would really care about was the issue of constitutional reform which Chen has vowed to press on with.

"The US separated the issue of Chen from the Taiwanese people. The Bush-Hu meeting was a good example of how the US will not hurt Taiwan's interests. Therefore, the interlude shouldn't be a problem to future bilateral relations," he said.

Cheng Tuan-yao (鄭端耀), deputy director of the Institute of International Relations at National Chengchi University, said it was not necessary for the US to be so heavy-handed in dealing with Chen this time as Taiwan has always been a reliable and important partner to the US.

"I believe some conservative voices from within the US will censure the government. It was not really necessary to humiliate Chen in this way. It was as if the US was reprimanding Taiwan like a child in front of China," Cheng said.

If Taiwan's relations with the US worsen because of this matter, it could undermine Taiwan's foreign relations and international standing, particularly with its diplomatic allies in Latin America, especially as many of them maintain their diplomatic relations with Taiwan because of the US' support, he said.

Raymond Wu (吳瑞國), vice president of the Cross-Strait Interflow Prospect Foundation, said the misgivings caused by the transit issue showed that the mutual trust between Taiwan and the US was in doubt.

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