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U.S., Taiwan must focus on the long-term game
The troubles surrounding President Chen Shui-bian's visit to Latin America have highlighted Taiwan's difficult diplomatic situation. One could say that this is the most tragically heroic overseas visit by a government official since the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) came to power in 2000.
The tragedy this time lies mainly in the US' restrictions, since Chinese pressure and blue camp obstruction is part of the daily routine. It is indeed a tragedy for Taiwan that the US, an ideological ally, would strike out at it. In this situation, it was heroic not to give in and shrink away from offending one's ally in order to maintain national dignity.
The US has still not explained the reasons for its restrictions on Chen's transit through the country, but it probably had to do with two issues -- that the US may have offended Chinese President Hu Jintao during his recent visit to Washington and is seeking to make amends, and that Chen may have angered US President George W. Bush with his handling of the National Unification Council (NUC) and the US is seeking payback.
Whatever the reason, it is connected to China, since the US needs China's cooperation on some international issues, in particular when it comes to Iran. Some White House officials say they are not afraid of China. If this is so, then the reason for the US snub is tied to the abolition of the NUC. But even this is linked to the fact that the US fears the move has offended China.
Had Chen abolished the NUC in March last year, when China passed its "Anti-secession" Law, the US probably wouldn't have had anything to say. But in letting a year pass before responding, did Taiwan touch on something that by now is considered taboo? The problem is that during the past year, China has made no show of wanting to change its mind concerning the "Anti-secession" Law, it has continued to add to its missile stock aimed at Taiwan and it has tightened its "united front" strategy.
Pray ask, if China, Cuba or international terrorists co-opted the US opposition for an attack on the ruling party and divided the US public, would Bush have waited a whole year before responding?
Chen is the popularly elected president of Taiwan, and the US government is constantly urging China to engage with Taiwan's democratically elected government, something China is unwilling to do. When the US government treats Taiwan's president with less than the full respect he deserves, isn't this tantamount to playing into the hands of China?
Current US policy reflects short-term needs and interests and has not been well thought through. This kind of opposition and conflict between democratic countries occurs from time to time, but should not be to the detriment of long-term ties.
When it comes to fighting international communism and terrorism, however, Taiwan and the US' long-term interests converge. Chen should thus transit through the US on his way home, and the US should accord him a suitable welcome.
The spat surrounding Chen's trip has also opened the possibility of domestic change in Taiwan. Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou, Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng, KMT Hualien County Commissioner Hsieh Shen-shan, and People First Party (PFP) Legislator Liu Wen-hsiung have all spoken up for Chen.
If Ma is elected president in 2008, he will enjoy the fruits of Chen's diplomacy. Conversely, if Taiwan and Chen are humiliated, Ma will have to deal with that too. It is to be hoped that this trip will awaken Taiwanese consciousness and promote domestic unity.
Paul Lin is a political commentator based in New York.
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