Fri, Jul 13, 2007 - Page 3 News List

FEATURE: Joseph Wu: diplomat without an embassy

ISOLATION Although the US hints that it would go to war to protect Taiwan, the nation's envoys are denied the prestige even the US' adversaries are afforded


With a view of a McDonald's restaurant, Taiwan's representative to the US Joseph Wu sits in his office in Washington last Friday.


Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) is a diplomat without an embassy.

He cannot fly his flag from the bland office building that serves as his headquarters. His president is banned from visiting Washington, and Wu and his colleagues are barred from the US State Department and White House; they meet senior US administration officials in restaurants and coffee shops.

Wu does not represent an enemy of the US. He is chief diplomat for Taiwan, a vibrant nation that the US hints it would go to war to protect if nuclear-armed China attacked.

This is the bizarre lot of Taiwan's diplomats in Washington, where China passionately objects to anything that suggests official US recognition.

Taiwan is a major US trading partner and a like-minded liberal democracy. But its representatives are prevented from enjoying the diplomatic prestige accorded even US adversaries -- such as Syria and Sudan -- that maintain embassies in Washington.

"It frustrates us sometimes, because even though we function like a real embassy and I function like a real ambassador, I'm subject to different kinds of restrictions," Wu said in an interview.

The US follows an ambiguous "one China" policy. But Washington still encourages the sale of defensive weapons to Taiwan, and, in 2002, US President George W. Bush pledged to "help Taiwan defend itself if provoked."

Taiwanese diplomats working in the US capital are constrained by internal US guidelines laid out in 1979, when Washington switched its diplomatic allegiance from Taipei to Beijing.

These guideline are meant to allow for continued US support of Taiwan, while also appeasing China.

Many in the US Congress champion a lifting of the restrictions. But the Bush administration is wary of offending China, a growing economic and military power and a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council.

Beijing scrutinizes all moves Taiwan makes in Washington.

"They are trying to marginalize us," Wu said. "The Chinese government has been trying to corner Taiwan on every occasion, in every kind of incident they can."

Taiwan, in turn, often tests the boundaries.

Witness a news conference given in May by President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁). Banned from visiting Washington, Chen appeared via satellite at the city's National Press Club, speaking from Taipei of his vision of Taiwan as "an independent, sovereign country" -- language that infuriates Beijing.

Chinese diplomats protested even this long-distant contact.

Chas Freeman Jr, a former US State Department official who helped craft the Taiwan guidelines, describes the "enormous ingenuity displayed by Taiwan's representatives in scoring points in some game that, frankly, most Americans neither care about or are unaware is even going on."

In response to requests for comment, the Chinese embassy in Washington provided a statement that said US-China relations are guided by the principle "that the US only maintains commercial, cultural and other unofficial relations with the people of Taiwan."

The State Department said that the guidelines are "intended to be consistent with the unofficial nature of our relations with Taiwan."

Under the guidelines, Taiwan's president, vice president, premier and ministers of defense and foreign affairs cannot visit Washington, though they are allowed to make visits or transit stops in other US cities on their way to other countries.

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