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US parties must be wary of China
Paul Lin
8/27/2004

Preparations for the US presidential election in November have entered an intense stage. The Democratic Party has held its convention in Boston. Next comes the Republican Party convention in New York.

Ethnic Chinese on both sides of the Taiwan Strait and around the world are focusing on the two presidential candidates' cross-strait policies.

The Republican Party is already in power, and if Bush is re-elected, my guess is there won't be any major changes. But the Democratic Party's relationship with the Chinese government has always been better than that of the Republicans. In one of his campaign statements, Democratic Party presidential candidate John Kerry said that the "one country, two systems" model could be used to resolve the cross-strait relationship.

Furthermore, the section of the Democratic Party's election platform dealing with the Strait mentions the "one China" policy and "improved relations with China," but not the Taiwan Relations Act. Does this mean that there will be bigger policy changes if Kerry is elected? Although an addition has been made to the party's platform saying that a peaceful solution to the Strait issue must meet the interests of the people of Taiwan, the US and Taiwan may have different views of what those interests are. For the US, they may include the option to achieve peace through Taiwan's surrender.

Although the cross-strait policy of Kerry and his foreign policy team is ambiguous, some commentators have said that there are no great differences between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to protecting Taiwan. When China was lobbing missiles over the country during the 1996 presidential election, then-president Bill Clinton sent an aircraft carrier to the Strait to deter China. There have also been reports that the ethnic Chinese Representative David Wu, a Democrat who is very friendly towards Taiwan, sent a telegram to Kerry asking him about his "one country, two systems" statement. Kerry reportedly responded that it was a slip of the tongue.

But such "ambiguities" or "mistakes" could conceivably lead to China misinterpreting the situation and taking rash action, thereby destroying peace and stability in the Strait.

What's more, the past political attitudes of some important Democratic politicians are also cause for worry. First, Richard Holbrooke, a former US ambassador to the UN, is one of Kerry's likely picks for secretary of state.

Around the time when the US severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan, he was assistant secretary of state for southeast Asia. Two years ago, with the support of former US ambassador to China J. Stapleton Roy, among others, Holbrooke strongly advocated that the US sign a fourth Sino-US communique with China. Holbrooke now believes that with the Cold War over, China is less of a threat to the free world than was the Soviet Union. But if one understands that the US was led into a trap in each of the three previous communiques, one can see that the fourth communique might be even more damaging to Taiwan.

Second, another former ambassador to China, James Sasser, is even more pro-China than Roy. He was on several occasions invited to the home of former Chinese president Jiang Zemin (A). Some US media are fond of saying that, rather than being the US' ambassador to China, he was China's ambassador to the US.

When the US mistakenly bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999, the Chinese government instigated violent student protests outside the US embassy and consulates. Sasser probably didn't expect such treatment after having done everything he could to help China. Neither Republicans nor Democrats have made cross-strait policy the focus of their respective election campaigns. But a review of previous elections shows that Ronald Reagan criticized Jimmy Carter for severing diplomatic ties with Taiwan, that Clinton accused Beijing of being a dictatorship, while George W. Bush criticized Clinton for being too soft on Beijing.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that all three won the election -- voters think American values are important, and do not just look to short term
benefits. Both the Republican and Democratic parties see anti-terrorism as the top foreign policy priority. The US should remain on its guard against the Chinese government -- given Beijing's murky relationships with international terrorists, and its view of the US as a potential enemy.

The Democratic Party should be more supportive of liberalism than the Republican Party, and it should not neglect China's deteriorating human rights record and rapidly expanding military. Democrats also have a weaker relationship with multinational corporations investing in China. Finally, the dumping of cheap Chinese products into the domestic market hurts the interests of US workers and small manufacturers -- which is something neither Republicans nor Democrats can ignore.

Paul Lin is a commentator based in New York.

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