Tue, Apr 24, 2007 - Page 4 News List

Interview: Taiwan needs to find its message to gain ground

NO VISIONPerceptions need to be shaped with tangible actions rather than slogans, said a former US deputy assistant for national security affairs

By Jewel Huang and Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTERS

Stephen Yates, a former adviser on national security to US Vice President Dick Cheney, speaks during a seminar on Taiwan's democratization organized by the Democratic Progressive Oarty in Taipei on April 15.


A growing number of people in Washington are articulating a pro-China stance on cross-strait relations few people in Taiwan seem to comprehend.

Stephen Yates, former deputy assistant for national security affairs to US Vice President Dick Cheney and now president of DC Asia Advisory, a Washington-based consultancy, said that more must be done if Taiwan wants to be taken seriously.

"China has more advocates and friends on its side in Washington," said Yates, who spoke to the Taipei Times last week during a visit to Taiwan.

"The circumstance is not favorable to Taiwan," he said.

Yates said China's growing success in Washington was not the result of hiring lobbyists or devising public relations campaigns but of cultivating constituencies in the US that support policies consistent with Beijing's interests.

Pressure is also being placed on Taiwan because strategists are finding it increasingly difficult to answer the question "Why does Taiwan matter?" when the answer to "Why does China matter?" has so much force. The economic opportunities with which China is attracting the world are almost irresistible.

"But Taiwan does not have to accept defeat; it can come up with `what is the alternative' and tell the world `here is why Taiwan matters,'" Yates said.

What Taiwan could do, he said, is make people in Washington feel uncomfortable for being too supportive of a government with a bad record on human rights.

"The civil rights issue is one of the reasons that there might be a sort of `inconvenient truth' facing those who back China," he said, suggesting Taiwan promote its achievements in the protection of civil rights, which could give other countries reason to support it.

"Taiwan's story on progress and civil rights has not really been told in an organized fashion to the civil rights community in the US, [the same community] that was actively engaged with Taiwan's dangwai [黨外, opposition] movement. But between then and now, things have changed in Taiwan; it's not the same connection," he said.

Environmentalism is another area in which Taiwan could offer a model to be explored, Yates said. "Taiwan should make them [US constituents] feel that it sets an interesting example here in Taiwan, and make them think, `They can do it and why can't we.'"

Creating connections and cultivating constituencies is the key, Yates said, suggesting that an "education lottery" for 2,000 free trips annually for US college students would allow young Americans to see things about Taiwan that would "let them have positive personal experiences and feel a sort of connection with Taiwan, something that was a deliberate effort to pluck people up and leave a positive impression and get them to hook here."

"If it is worth spending billions of dollars on national defense, I think it's worth spending maybe several millions of dollars on some of these `soft power' ideas," he said.

But Yates said Taiwanese politicians who wallow in confrontation obstruct the country's progress and make it difficult to find common ground for those who would support such projects.

A lack of long-term perspective on what the future could or should hold is another common failing among Taiwanese politicians and independence activists, he said, adding that protests against the "one China" policy were the things he had heard most frequently from Taiwan in recent years.

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