Monday, September 10, 2007

US stance risks hostile responses in Taiwan

US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte has criticized moves toward holding a referendum on applying for UN membership under the name “Taiwan.” This is an important warning regarding the relations between Taiwan and the US, and we should pay close attention to what follows.

Negroponte’s statements bring to mind former secretary of state Colin Powell's interview with Hong Kong’s Phoenix Television in October 2004. Powell said at the time: “There is only one China. Taiwan is not independent. It does not enjoy sovereignty as a nation.”

Recently, with statements like Negroponte’s that a referendum is “a step towards the declaration of independence of Taiwan,” or by Dennis Wilder, the senior director of East Asian Affairs on the US’ National Security Council, that: “Taiwan, or the Republic of China, is not at this point a state,” Washington has virtually become a mouthpiece for the Chinese government. It is increasingly obvious that China uses the US government to put pressure on Taiwan.

The problem is that the US is willing to oppress Taiwanese democracy rather than muster up the will or the courage to take a stand against China’s arbitrary and unreasonable demands. And when the US chooses the side of China, relations between Taiwan and the US cannot avoid a structural change.

However, for a long time Taiwan was different from other Asian countries in that it had no strong national anti-US feeling or movement.

It is therefore worth examining how the US government’s position brushes aside the manifestation of the will of the Taiwanese public and harms relations between Taiwan and the US.

With the US and China standing together in preventing Taiwan from breaking out of its diplomatic isolation, feelings of dislike and distrust are growing among Taiwanese. Some polls in Taiwan illustrate this development. The favorable impression the Taiwanese have of the US is steadily weakening, and anti-US sentiment is brewing.

In the interview with Phoenix Television, Negroponte said that “Taiwan has no better friend than the United States.” But Washington often disregards the fact that for a long time, Taiwan has been the US’ most reliable friend. The US seems to take Taiwan’s support and cooperation for granted, while disregarding what Taiwan stands for and what it wants. US opposition to Taiwan holding a referendum on UN membership reflects this arrogant attitude.

The biggest blind spot the US has regarding Taiwan is that it does not know how to deal with its democracy and its people. It still believes that by putting pressure on Taiwan’s leaders it can change policy. This is exactly the mistake that the US most often warns the leaders in Beijing against.

Washington has to understand that when it criticizes Taipei and says that pushing for a referendum is a mistake, it not only criticizes President Chen, but also all Taiwanese who support having a referendum.

Rhetoric that seeks to separate Chen from the public only serves to show how little the US, one of the world’s foremost democracies, understands democracy.

Unfortunately, arrogance and lack of understanding on the part of the US only makes Taiwanese feel angry and frustrated. One needs to beware that when anti-US sentiment emerges in Taiwan, it could gradually evolve into anti-Americanism, and this in turn could influence Taiwan’s strategic choices.

This might be the most important factor in structural changes in the relationship between Taiwan and the US.

(From Taipei Times 09/08/2007)

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