The public enthusiasm displayed formerly by the US government for supporting Taiwan initiatives appears to have abated in the wake of recent political developments here, according to a report released on Friday by the US Congressional Research Service (CRS).
"While still pursuing a closer US relationship with Taiwan, US officials now appear to be balancing criticisms of the PRC military buildup opposite Taiwan with periodic cautions and warnings to the effect that US support for Taiwan is not unconditional, but has limits," the report said.
The report titled Taiwan: Recent Developments and US Policy Choices was written by Kerry Dumbaugh, a specialist in Asian affairs at the CRS' Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division.
The report said that early in its tenure, the administration of US President George W. Bush seemed to abandon the long-standing US policy of "strategic ambiguity" toward Taiwan in favor of "strategic clarity" that placed more emphasis on Taiwan's interests and less on PRC concerns.
Bush publicly stated in 2001 that the US would do "whatever it takes" to help defend Taiwan and approved a substantial sale of US weapons to Taipei, the report noted.
It said the White House was more accommodating to visits by Taiwanese officials than previous US administrations, permitting visits by President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) in 2001 and by Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) in 2003.
With support for Taiwan growing in the US Congress, a House Congressional Taiwan Caucus was established in 2002 and a Senate Taiwan Caucus was set up in 2003, it said.
However, while Chen's position that Taiwan already "is an independent, sovereign country" has worried many Taiwanese voters, the recent string of corruption scandals allegedly involving government officials and Chen's family members have led to record-low approval ratings for Chen and a mounting political outcry against him, the report said.
"These political trends have raised anxieties about the possibility of a future political or constitutional crisis in Taiwan that could further complicate US policy," the report said.
It said US officials have been under subtle but increasing pressure from both Taipei and Beijing to become directly involved in some aspects of cross-strait relations.
In late 2003, Beijing officials began quietly urging Washington to pressure Chen into shelving plans for a national referendum, and in 2004, they pressed US officials to avoid sending the "wrong signals" to Taiwan, the report said.
Taipei officials, on the other hand, have begun suggesting that the US strengthen or reevaluate the Taiwan Relations Act and support Chen's constitutional reform plans, the report said.
Meanwhile, Taiwan supporters within the US Congress continue to press for more favorable US treatment of Taiwan and for Taiwan's inclusion in international organizations, it said.
"Faced with competing pressures and with continuing transformations in both the PRC and Taiwan systems, US officials may be facing new and more difficult policy choices concerning Taiwan in the next few years," the report said.