Numerous members of the US Congress came to the defense of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and Taiwan on Wednesday as US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick testified before a hearing of the House International Relations Committee on US policy toward China.
The issue of the response to Chen's request for transit stops in the US during his recent trip to Costa Rica and Paraguay played a surprisingly large role in the two-and-a-half-hour hearing, which was called to deal primarily with China's role as a rising power in Asia and the US response to it.
In answers to questions about Chen, Zoellick seemed to say that the limits placed on the president -- he was offered stopovers only in Anchorage, Alaska, or Honoloulu, Hawaii -- were in retaliation for what the US administration considers Chen's reneging on the so-called "five-noes" promises he made in his two inauguration addresses, along with his efforts to fight Washington's "one-China" policy.
At another point, as Zoellick was giving an animated defense of the US transit action, he seemed to link it with the fear that Chen's recent actions could provoke a war in the Taiwan Strait between the US and China.
"There are big stakes here where lives could be lost," he said.
"This is the balance ... we want to be supportive of Taiwan while not encouraging those that try to move toward independence. Because let me be very clear: independence means war. And that means American soldiers ..." he said before being interrupted by a questioner.
Zoellick had harsh words for Chen's decision to mothball the National Unification Council and guidelines without warning Washington beforehand.
"What President Chen has said to us is that his word is good, and that the things he has committed to the United States he has followed up on," Zoellick said.
"But in the business that I'm in, it's very important, if people do give their word, that they keep it," he said.
"What is going on is an effort to kind of erode [Chen's promises], and -- sort of at the edge -- sand it off. And frankly, I think it's a good thing for US diplomacy to hold people to their terms and words."
Following up, Zoellick said that while the US supports Taiwan's participation in the global system, "if it keeps trying to revisit the question that the United States made in the late 1970s about a one-China policy, I think it's going to keep hitting into a wall."
"We're not going to change that 30-year-old [`one-China'] system," he said.
Dana Rohrabacher, a co-chairperson of the Congressional Taiwan Caucus and a member of a six-member congressional delegation that met Chen in Costa Rica, slammed the administration for its "disgraceful" treatment of Chen.
"For us to throw ourselves on the ground in order to curry favor with a dictatorship [China] by mistreating a democratically elected leader doesn't lend itself to the type of respect from the dictatorship that will lead us to ... positive things," Rohrabacher said.
Another delegation member, Diane Watson, said that the delegation's leader, Dan Burton, planned to ask the Bush administration to make an apology to Chen for "not treating him with the proper protocol." Watson said Chen said he felt that Taiwan was disrespected and that he was personally hurt by the refusal of an overnight transit stop.