Arts & Culture 
 Business 
 Environment 
 Government 
 Health 
 Human Rights 
 Military 
 Philosophy 
 Science 
 U.S. Asian Policy 


Home > East Asia > 

Don Keyser case: let's talk rumors
Paul Lin
10/17/2004

The US and Taiwan have been shaken by the arrest of former US State Department official Donald Keyser. Although the plethora of rumors surrounding the incident make an assessment and commentary difficult, I will offer my opinion of what is currently known, as well as of the possible effects of the case.

First, Keyser is accused of lying to conceal a visit to Taiwan in September last year. There is apparently no talk of espionage as of yet, but the fact that he met with Taiwanese national security personnel has given rise to rumors of espionage. And because so few facts are known about the case, rumor is all there is.

But if Keyser indeed did deceive his superiors, even unintentionally, then it is Taiwan's duty to help the US find out who is responsible. Since there have been reports that Keyser also went on an approved visit to Taiwan in July last year, it must be clarified whether the two trips are being confused with each other. Suspected espionage is not normally officially acknowledged by the governments concerned, but Foreign Affairs Minister Mark Chen's quick departure for the US in order to gain a better understanding of the situation shows Taiwan's sincerity.

Second, it is almost inconceivable that an official of Keyser's caliber would be able to travel to Taiwan on his own, for three days and without official approval, without being found out.

What could have forced such irrational action? According to several reports, he seems to have "lost his heart" in Taiwan.

On the one hand, it may be that his feelings for Taiwan, his fight for what he sees as Taiwan's unfair situation, and his dissatisfaction with the US' policy of remaining neutral between Taiwan and China, makes him think helping Taiwan is worth a transgression. On the other hand, it could mean that his reason for breaking the rules is that he has developed feelings for a Taiwanese woman, and, by extension, for Taiwan.

But neither explanation rings true when looking at Keyser's professional record, personal style and intellectual maturity. Maybe there is a third -- more likely -- possibility.

Third, the affair will not have any significant effects on the future relationship between the US and Taiwan. Considering the friendship between Taiwan and the US, not even an issue involving classified documents dealing with Taiwan and China policy will pose a threat to US national security.

Just as the cases of Larry Chin, who spied for Beijing in the CIA two decades ago, and Katrina Leung, who used sex to obtain FBI intelligence a couple years back, didn't hurt the US-China relationship, a minor glitch in the US-Taiwan relationship will not have any significant long term effects. But this must not make Taiwan deal with this matter lightly. It is still necessary to reveal the truth and assign responsibility, while in the process absorbing some new lessons in strengthening national security-related discipline.

Four, China will probably be laughing up its sleeve while making a big deal out of this. Some Chinese media have already offered their analyses, saying that this is a prelude to a change in US cross-strait policy. But why make such a big deal out of it? If the US really is about to implement such a change, they will do so on the quiet.

But if China wants to create an incident or exaggerate the matter to sow discord between the US and Taiwan, then both the US and Taiwan have to be alert to the fact that China has done so before, and that they will blow this situation even more out of proportion.

Considering that China is not even above forging the Chinese edition of Hilary Clinton's autobiography, we should not be surprised if they describe this case in terms of "bribery" and "seduction," methods routinely used by China's secret service. Taiwan's opposition parties should also be careful not to overstep their bounds lest they help China sow discord between Taiwan and the US.

It still remains unclear if this incident was exposed as a result of regular and thorough investigations into a rule violation, a struggle between China-friendly and Taiwan-friendly forces in the US, a deliberate leak resulting from the struggle between the green and blue camps in Taiwan, or even Chinese interference.

An early revelation of the truth would benefit both the US and Taiwan. I also feel that it is a pity that the future of the outstanding Keyser should be affected by this affair, and an early clarification of responsibility and the nature of the incident would benefit him, too.

Paul Lin is a political commentator based in New York.

© Copyright 2002-2007 AFAR