Balancing US, PRC comfort zones

By Paul Lin 林保華

Friday, Oct 16, 2009, Page 8

When Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was elected president, the immediate US reaction was to heave a sigh of relief because Ma’s pro-­China policies were expected to relax the tense cross-strait relationship. In practice, things have turned out slightly differently, as “pro-China” became “submit to China,” and this raised flags in the US, as can be seen from a series of recent events.

When the new director of the American Institute in Taiwan, William Stanton, visited Minister of Justice Wang Ching-feng (王清峰) on Sept. 30, he said that “people overseas had some different thoughts” on the trial of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁). Why would he risk being accused of interfering with Taiwan’s internal affairs by bringing up this case? Clearly because the US now feels it is no longer a clear-cut judicial matter.

In his Oct. 7 column, New York Times columnist Philip Bowring said: “Chen upset a natural ally in [former US president] George W. Bush by needlessly provoking Beijing in an attempt to score political points at home. Now the KMT [Chinese Nationalist Party] seems to have gone to the other extreme.”

To some people, the Chen trial is evidence that pro-­unification advocates are demonizing Chen for his support for Taiwanese independence and for breaking the KMT’s authoritarian rule so they can play up to Beijing.

The editorial in last month’s issue of Taiwan Business Topics, published by the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei, said one topic that deserves to be high on the Cabinet’s priority list is “balancing the advances in cross-Strait ties with further strengthening of relations with the United States, Taiwan’s most important source of international support.”

Bowring makes the same point in his column, saying: “Taiwan seems to be talking itself into believing that it is even more dependent on the mainland than need be the case … [and] dependence on China is often overstated.”

Prior to this, because pro-green supporters were allegedly being excluded from the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, Carl Gershman, president of the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy, an organization that is also supported by the US Congress, sent a letter to Ma saying: “It has come to my attention through reports in the press that broad changes are being proposed for the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy. I am concerned that such an overhaul could well compromise both the Foundation’s independence and the quality of its work.”

These incidents not only tell us that Ma has been unable to give balanced treatment to Taiwan’s relations with the US and China, but also that this imbalance involves a deterioration of the basic democratic values that any democracy must respect.

What is most upsetting to the US is that during the Typhoon Morakot disaster, Ma blocked US aid teams from entering Taiwan while attempting to bring in rescue personnel from China’s People’s Liberation Army. Ma still has not offered an explanation for this. When the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) was refusing to accept US aid, its minister, Francisco Ou (歐鴻鍊), “could not be found.”

Why hasn’t the government provided an explanation of Ou’s whereabouts and who he was meeting with? Maybe Ou, who was made a scapegoat and had to step down in the Cabinet reshuffle, should give the public an explanation.

Not long ago, the government announced that it would not issue visas to World Uyghur Congress leader Rebiya Kadeer and its secretary-general Dolkun Isa because the government claims Kadeer is closely connected with terrorists and because Isa was said to be a terrorist. Because the government feared a lawsuit, it has changed its tune and says the reason for not issuing visas is that it would jeopardize cross-strait relations.

Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) said it would “make China feel uncomfortable.” The same reason is given for not letting Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi (李洪志) into the country. Who would have thought that Ma’s guiding principle was to make the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) feel comfortable and that he therefore must keep anyone the CCP doesn’t like out of Taiwan?

As Taiwan is leaning heavily toward the CCP, the US has finally seen Ma’s true colors. On Oct. 7, the Liberty Times, the Taipei Times’ sister publication, reported that sources in Washington revealed that the US administration has completed an internal Taiwan policy review and now intends to send US Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, a retired US Army four-star general, to visit Taiwan next spring to strengthen US-Taiwan relations. That would be the first such visit since before George W. Bush took office.

Such a move would be certain to make China, which wants to bring down US imperialism and “liberate” Taiwan, feel uncomfortable. It would also make Ma, who is cooperating with China to suppress Taiwanese independence, feel uncomfortable. The question is whether Ma will dare make the US feel uncomfortable by making China feel comfortable.

Paul Lin is a political commentator.

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