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No rift exists in relations with US
Paul Lin
1/4/2004

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US President George W. Bush's criticism of President Chen Shui-bian's statements and actions in the presence of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has been exaggerated by the media and some politicians.

Misunderstandings and differences exist between Taiwan and the US, but there are even more commonalities.

To say that Bush's words were a display of rage would be unfair to Bush, because a show of rage is an emotional expression. During a fit of rage it is easy to become irrational.

Bush, however, was very careful in his choice of words.

For example, he never said he opposed Taiwan's independence, and he did not neglect to warn China that if it took armed action, the US would have to take action. Rather than saying that he was in a rage, therefore, it would be more appropriate to say that his words were were chosen in the light of campaign considerations and diplomatic difficulties.

The US is facing an enormous trade deficit with China, and is trying to revive its economy. The US therefore placed great importance on Wen's visit. Bush, in order to gain Chinese economic concessions ahead of next year's presidential election, needed to satisfy some of Wen's requirements. To a certain extent, therefore, Bush's statements could be said to be a matter of campaign language.

Bush's war on terror is another reason he needed to satisfy some of Wen's demands. The US hasn't been able to pull out of Afghanistan or Iraq. North Korea still stirring things up, and China is the US' real support in this situation. This is the reason that Bush made concessions on the Taiwan issue and called China a diplomatic partner.

There are, however, differences between the term "diplomatic partner" and the "strategic partner" of the Clinton era. Given that China is the world's largest dictatorship, is it possible that the US would make it a true partner?

Some people say that Taiwan is shaking due to Bush's fit of rage. In what way is Taiwan shaking? The DPP chose a ticket of Chen and Vice President Annette Lu (fq), as expected, and Chen has not withdrawn his plan to hold a defensive referendum.

Many expected that the pan-blue camp would launch a massive political attack.

The People First Party has made a little fuss, but Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan has remained calm. The reason for this is that the KMT not long ago said that Taiwan should not rely on the US or become the US' pawn. Attacking Chen now on the basis of Bush's statements would be shooting themselves in the foot.

The reason that there have been a few misunderstandings, or a little friction, in the Taiwan-US relationship is that next year is a presidential election year in both countries. Chen has been using the referendum idea to win votes, while Bush has been saying he will fix the economy to win votes. This has led to disagreements, as Taiwan opposes China while the US tries to win China over. This clash of campaigns is a small, short-term clash. The disagreements are outweighed by the commonalities between Taiwan and the US.

First, Taiwan and the US share the ideal of liberal democracy, and the US will not sell out Taiwan. During the authoritarian Chiang Ching-kuo era, the US passed the Taiwan Relations Act to protect the interests of the free world. How could it now sell out a democratic Taiwan?

Selling out Taiwan would be rewarding a dictatorship. It would shake the world and the biggest victim would be the US itself.

Second, Taiwan's strategic position in the free world must not be underestimated. China and Japan have been struggling fiercely to win over ASEAN countries. If Taiwan falls into China's hands, Japan's link with ASEAN will be broken. Not only will ASEAN fall within China's sphere of influence, but Japan will also move away from the US and move toward China. The US will therefore be forced to pull out of Asia altogether, resulting in a grave threat to US security.

In this situation, cooperation is in the fundamental interest of both Taiwan and the US. Divergence and misunderstandings between the two will not get too far out of hand because both countries have difficulties in the region that they must overcome.

Caution is still called for, however, because China is doing all it can to split Taiwan and the US.

There are some politicians in China and Taiwan who create problems where none exist, persisting in provocatively casting the defensive referendum as a referendum on Taiwanese independence in order to confuse the public.

And for a long time now, some US politicians have looked only to achieving immediate benefits, or maintained constant pro-China attitudes and advocated China-leaning policies. Lacking an understanding of China's bandit attitude of bullying the weak and fearing the strong, they always shrink back in the face of China's blackmail.

But in fact, Wen's trip shows us China's psychological weakness. Having no other means of dealing with Taiwan, they have to rely on the US.

When the people of Taiwan have ridden out this storm, they will continue their march toward the world with even more confidence and self-respect.


*Paul Lin is a political commentator based in New York.


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