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U.S. - Taiwan ties not deteriorating
Paul Lin
11/27/2003

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US-Taiwan ties not deteriorating


There has been increased interaction between the US, Taiwan and China in the international arena lately. Some Taiwanese media have reported how the US and China are on good terms while US-Taiwan relations are deteriorating.

Indeed, US-China relations are taking a turn for the better. US Secretary of State Colin Powell gave praise to the improvement, which was demonstrated in the courteous treatment the US extended to Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing and the atmosphere between US President George W. Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao at the APEC summit in Thailand.

These two countries' good relations have developed since the beginning of the war on terrorism and were improved by their joint attempt to resolve North Korea's nuclear weapon threat. But is the improvement in bilateral ties superficial or substantive?

To resolve the nuclear arms problem, the US has been praising Beijing's performance. This smacks of political trickery. One cannot not rule out the possibility that the US has expectations of Hu. But if China's human rights problem is not improved and its arms exports to totalitarian countries are not halted, then US-China relations are unlikely to be fundamentally improved.

There has been a plethora of rumors about US-Taiwan relations recently. These rumors say relations are really bad -- in contrast to Sino-American relations. If Beijing were to wage war against Taiwan, it is possible that the US would not intervene. This is, possibly, what some people wish for.

The rumors are as follows: It has been said that the US has been unhappy ever since President Chen Shui-bian issued his "one country on each side" of the Taiwan Strait dictum last year. The US has also expressed "concern" about Taiwan's attempt to hold referendums, and then there is the controversy over Chen's promise to draft a new constitution. The US reportedly views Chen as a "troublemaker." In a meeting with a Taiwanese delegation in Beijing, Jia Qinglin, the chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, said Bush had described Chen as a "troublemaker" during his talks with Hu.

The Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Washington checked with a US Department of State official who knew the details of the Bush-Hu meeting. The official said, as far as he understood, Bush had not described Chen as a "troublemaker."

The US also felt annoyed by Jia's statement. But the news agencies that reported on the "troublemaker" controversy lacked interest in the US' denial.

Washington has repeatedly said that it "does not support Taiwan independence." But Chinese officials shamelessly translate this into "Washington opposes Taiwan independence." Although Bush uses the words "not support" in his speeches, he sometimes uses the word "oppose." He told Hu that the US "does not support Taiwan moving toward independence."

Some local media gave these comments widespread coverage, apparently in an attempt to prove that Washington does not like Chen. Those Taiwanese politicians and media that condemned the US invasion of Iraq and criticized Taiwan for currying favor with the US during the US-Iraq war have suddenly started to praise Washington. Clearly, they do not want the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government and Washington to enjoy good relations.

Such rumors and slanders have affected some US officials. On Oct. 18, the State Department said that "the US does not favor one candidate or one party over another [in next year's election]. We look forward to working with whomever the people of Taiwan elect as their next president and vice president." Some people have said the announcement was made to correct remarks by American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Chairwoman Therese Shaheen during a recent visit to Taiwan. They even claimed that there is a subtle competition between Shaheen and AIT Director Douglas Paal.

The State Department denied these assertions, saying that the announcement was made to avoid the impression that Washington supports any candidate. However, the local media that reported Washington's discontent with Shaheen's statement did not publish this information, allowing the erroneous message to spread.

More laughable, the overbearing Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator John Chang said that he received the related State Department document before Minister of Foreign Affairs Eugene Chien did. How could he know whether Chien had the document or not? Was he trying to indicate that some government representatives overseas had leaked secret information to him? If so, he exposed those representatives as being unethical.

Under such circumstances, the reduction of Chen's upcoming overseas trip -- from 17 to seven days -- has been viewed as irrefutable evidence that the US is unhappy with him. However, Chen has only cut the number of countries he will visit, not the days he will be in the US. Nevertheless, some people are proclaiming the demise of Taiwan-US relations.

Such behavior on the part of Taiwanese politicians or media, whether intentional or not, could only be explained as an effort to echo Beijing's policy of luring Washington.


Paul Lin is a political commentator based in New York.



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