What course will US-PRC relations now take?

By Paul Lin 林保華 Saturday, Feb 14, 2009, Page 8

US SECRETARY OF State Hillary Clinton’s first overseas trip since assuming office will be to Japan, Indonesia South Korea and China. She had originally decided to visit only Japan, with the other destinations added later. This shows that the US sees Japan as a top priority in Asia for its global strategy. After all, the US signed the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security with Japan in 1960.

As this affects Taiwan’s security, it should be good news. Clinton included China in her trip not only because the US cannot afford to ignore China but also because US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told a Senate confirmation hearing that US President Barack Obama believed China was manipulating the yuan, drawing Beijing’s criticism.

Both former president Bill Clinton and his successor, George W. Bush, condemned China during their election campaigns. After taking office, however, they made an about-face, and US-Taiwan relations deteriorated. In contrast, Obama seldom expressed opinions on US-China relations during his election campaign. But the Democrats seem to be more concerned about the rights of the disadvantaged than the Republicans, so the Obama administration might be more critical of China.

On the surface, there will not be any major differences in the US position on the Taiwan issue compared with Obama’s two predecessors. Nevertheless, Hillary Clinton is a politician in her own right, so it is hard to predict what course US-Taiwan relations will take.

US State Department acting spokesman Robert Wood said Clinton would discuss the financial crisis, humanitarian issues, security concerns and climate change with China. Humanitarian issues include human rights, Tibet and women’s empowerment, he said. On Jan. 27, Clinton said the economy was only one issue in US-China relations and that the US government wanted a comprehensive dialogue.

On Feb. 2, the Japanese Web site Daily Yomiuri Online published a report from Washington saying the Obama administration would launch a new, comprehensive, strategic dialogue with China that includes high-level talks on political, economic and security issues. The report also said the US hoped to upgrade bilateral talks through periodic visits by US Vice President Joe Biden and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶). In the past, lower-level discussions were used by China as an excuse to dodge serious bilateral dialogue. It seems clear that US-China relations will break through the limited and formalistic framework adopted by the Bush administration, which focused on economic issues.

If the US stresses freedom, human rights and security issues, it will benefit Taiwan. The issue of independence is a matter of differences between Taiwanese and Chinese values.

Hillary Clinton has had direct problems with China on two occasions. The first time was in 1995, when she attended the World Conference on Women in Beijing. She was unhappy with China when she saw authorities block non-governmental organizations from staging protests.

The second time was in 2003, when her autobiography was published. In its simplified Chinese version, published by Yilin Publishing House, almost all content referring to China was deleted or altered. She was infuriated and learned first-hand how the Chinese control information.

Taiwan, on the other hand, enjoys freedom of information. Furthermore, not only have we had a two-term female vice president — Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) — but the Democratic Progressive Party is led by a woman, Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文). The differences between Taiwan and China are obvious. The US will not act impetuously on cross-strait issues, but Taiwan should make the most of the situation and look for bargaining chips.

Paul Lin is a political commentator.


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