Taipei Times: President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) wants to abolish the National Unification Council and the guidelines, but some US officials warn of serious consequences for US-Taiwan ties. What's your take?
Michael Green: It is my view that the more Taipei emphasizes issues of traditional state-to-state sovereignty, the more Beijing is able to weaken Taiwan's strategic position by isolating Taiwan from the United States, Japan and other democracies. On the other hand, the more Taipei emphasizes democracy, its common values with the US and Japan and its status as a "stakeholder" in international society in terms of good work -- then the stronger Taiwan's separate identity and strategic position become.
For that reason, I hope that the NSC [National Security Council] in Taipei will review this proposal of President Chen's carefully, but quickly recommend not to take symbolic steps like elimination of the unification guidelines that ultimately will only cause a weakening of ties with Washington and Tokyo and therefore a weakening of Taiwan's strategic position.
TT: Some analysts say Chen's "five noes" are important for maintaining the cross-strait status quo. Do you think abolishing the guidelines will change the "status quo"?
Green: I do not think abolishing the unification guidelines will cause a conflict in the Taiwan Strait, and it may technically be a grey area with respect to the "five noes." However, I think [it would] erode the trust that was built up between Washington and Taipei since December 2003, and so the symbolic effect will end up damaging Taiwan's strategic position. Even if the abolition of the guidelines violates only the "spirit" of the "five noes," is it worth it?
If Washington gets annoyed again, what signals will Taiwan's Central American allies begin picking up from the State Department the next time they are lobbied by Beijing to switch relations? What signals will Beijing pick up in terms of Washington's determination to press [China] to engage in direct dialogue with the government on Taiwan? What signals will the European Union pick up with respect to the arms embargo issue? What will happen to the pro-Taiwan groups in Japan that think peace in the Taiwan Strait should remain a core strategic interest for the US-Japan alliance? How will it affect the balance of thinking in the US Congress? It just isn't worth it to Taiwan to mess with anything related to the "five noes."
TT: Is there a growing gap between Taiwan and the US on Taiwan and US regional interests?
Green: I know that President [George W.] Bush places great emphasis on freedom and democracy and that is why he spotlighted Taiwan's democracy in his November 2005 Kyoto speech. The demonstrated success of Taiwan's democracy is very important to the United States at a time when the future of Asia is uncertain.
On the whole, the region is moving towards greater freedom, but if China is able to de-legitimize Japanese democracy using the history issue, and de-legitimize Taiwan's democracy using the "sovereignty" issue, then the US will have a much weaker hand in demanding that China itself be a stakeholder that adheres to international norms in Asia.
Ultimately, Taiwan's own identity and security rest largely on its democratic principles, but those get ignored by the international community when Taipei bangs loudly on the drum of traditional sovereignty issues. Taiwan's identity depends on the international community valuing Taiwan -- and the international community does that based on Taiwan's model as a democracy, not based on the name or the flag or other trappings of sovereignty that put at risk everyone's interest in stability across the Taiwan Straits.
If there is a gap between Taipei and Washington, it may be on the question of how exactly to preserve Taiwan's identity and democracy -- a goal we strongly share with the people of Taiwan for strategic and idealistic reasons. I worry that too much of the US-Taiwan dialogue has been with people in Washington who care only about stabilizing relations with Beijing and do not understand the importance of Taiwan -- or people who care only about supporting Taiwan against Beijing at any cost. We need a more balanced dialogue that looks at how to preserve and strengthen Taiwan's strategic position based on a realistic assessment of the tools in Taiwan's kit, including defensive capabilities, international image and Taiwan's values.
TT: What else can the US do to urge Beijing to talk with Taipei?
Green: President Bush has urged the Chinese to negotiate with the duly elected government on Taiwan as well as the current dialogue with the pan-blue [camp]. Beijing has to take that seriously. That message from the US will be complicated by the current proposals to abolish the unification guidelines or take other steps that touch on the "five noes." This issue needs to be cleared up before [Chinese] President Hu [Jintao 胡錦濤] comes to Washington in April.
We need Beijing to see solidarity between Taipei and Washington.
TT: What do you think Washington should ask of Hu?
Green: Frankly, the administration will not want Taiwan to be the major topic on the agenda. The president can push for cross-strait dialogue, but he must also make progress with President Hu on trade, intellectual property rights, currency, North Korea -- and the broad question of China's role in the world and whether or not Beijing is ready to be a "stakeholder."
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