ANALYSIS: DPP eyes better relations with US in the future

By Chris Wang  /  Staff reporter

Mon, Jul 09, 2012 - Page 3

Although Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers and the party’s central headquarters have appeared to be at odds over how to organize opposition to the government’s policy of setting a maximum residue level for the livestock feed additive ractopamine in beef, party leaders insist that the DPP is ready to “reset” its relationship with the US, arguably the nation’s most important ally.

The DPP announced its support for the adoption of international standards on Thursday night, soon after the UN-affiliated Codex Alimentarius Commission voted in Rome in favor of maximum residue levels (MRLs) for ractopamine.

The speed of the announcement was likely an attempt to erase the party’s role — often noted by the US and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) — in retaining the ban on ractopamine-laced US beef imports and to counter its anti-US image, particularly after the DPP blocked legislative proceedings last month to prevent the passing of an amendment that would eventually relax the ban.

However, with the EU maintaining its strong opposition to the use of ractompamine even after the vote, several DPP lawmakers argued that stricter measures should be adopted to safeguard food safety and called for more inner-party discussion before making a final assessment.

DPP Legislator Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁) said that Taiwan should adopt the stricter EU standard, while DPP Legislator Kuan Bi-ling (管碧玲) said the nation did not have to accept the Codex standard.

Regardless of the beef dispute, the DPP is determined and ready to “fix” its relationship with the US, which has deteriorated markedly since the latter part of former DPP chair Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) presidential campaign, said a pair of high-ranking DPP officials who were appointed by new party Chairperson Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) in May.

“We do not expect the relationship to change overnight, because the overall framework and atmosphere was already in place when Su took over the party. It will take time,” said DPP Policy Research Committee chief executive director Joseph Wu (吳釗燮), who was the nation’s representative to the US under the former DPP administration.

Finding a quick resolution to the beef dispute — a key issue for the US — would not be easy, he said.

However, Taiwan-US relations are multi-faceted, he added, and disagreement over the beef issue did not mean the DPP would ignore other areas of bilateral concern, such as regional security cooperation.

DPP officials have always enjoyed a solid and trusting relationship with their US counterparts, Wu said.

What happened between the DPP and the US was unfortunate, Wu said, referring to a series of testy comments made by both sides over the past year.

An unnamed senior US official told the Financial Times in September last year that the US was concerned that a win by then-DPP presidential candidate Tsai could “jeopardize” cross-strait stability.

During the presidential campaign, the US also forwarded a letter from Tsai to US President Barack Obama to President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) re-election campaign, Wu said.

Tsai later refused to meet with American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Chairman Raymond Burghardt when he visited Taiwan after the election.

“As much as the DPP hopes to rebuild its relationship with the US, I would say that Washington is also trying to mend fences with the DPP,” Wu said.

DPP Department of International Affairs director Liu Shih-chung (劉世忠) agreed that both sides were keen to rebuild constructive relations.

Su has said that the DPP will re-establish its representative office in Washington, which is expected to greatly enhance bilateral communications, Liu said.

DPP officials have taken every opportunity to talk to US officials and academics about the wide range of issues in which the sides share an interest, Liu said.

The US has been particularly unhappy with the description of US beef as “poisonous” by several DPP lawmakers, but the party leadership has since asked lawmakers to tone down the rhetoric and no DPP official has used that term.

“I think Washington has great expectations of Su and is keen to reset our relationship. They understand that [the relationship] needs to move in a more positive direction. Washington must be aware after the plethora of recent mistakes by the Ma administration, that the DPP is not the only cause of strained ties with the US,” Liu said.

The DPP is also closely watching the US presidential campaign, which is expected to heat up next month, he added.

Regardless of who wins the US presidential election in November, the political team in charge of Asia Pacific affairs at the US Department of State Department is expected to undergo significant personnel changes, which could be important for Taiwan, he said.

According to a staffer in Tsai’s office, she recently met with a number of US officials and academics.