Friday, May 12, 2006

Foggy Bottom in the Driver's Seat on China Policy

In significant testimony before the House International Relations Committee on May 11, 2006, Robert Zoellick clarified that the American snub of Taiwan president Chen Shuibian—shunted off to remote US transit points en route to South America--was no accident.

He also made it clear that expectations and priorities of the US State Department are driving US policy toward Taiwan, something that is not likely to please fans of President Bush and Vice President Cheney.

From the
Taipei Times:

In answers to questions about Chen, Zoellick seemed to say that the limits placed on the president -- he was offered stopovers only in Anchorage, Alaska, or Honoloulu, Hawaii -- were in retaliation for what the US administration considers Chen's reneging on the so-called "five-noes" promises he made in his two inauguration addresses, along with his efforts to fight Washington's "one-China" policy.

The five noes policy was a promise by Chen to avoid taking steps toward independence so long as the PRC did not use force to attempt to achieve unification. One pillar of the policy was a pledge not to abolish the National Unification Council.

However, Chen did exactly that.


On 27 February 2006 Chen dismantled the National Unification Council saying it "will cease functioning and the budget no longer be appropriated", effectively breaking the promises made in 2000. In the week prior, he told U.S. Congressman Rob Simmons that the Council and Guidelines were "absurd products of an absurd era.”

Probably the key element in the Wikipedia entry comes next:

Chen has revealed he planned to draft a new constitution, which many conjectured would be pro-separatist, before he stepped down in 2008.

Taiwan independence is geopolitical dynamite, and the US government doesn’t want the Taiwan government pursuing it without close direction from Washington.

Chen understandably feels that Taiwan independence is central to his political identity and covenant with his followers, and he has an obligation and desire to pursue it, and not soft-pedal it in deference to the priorities of the United States.

He probably also has the somewhat cynical realization that if he pushes for Taiwan independence, the US will be unable to abandon Taiwan.

This idea that the US is to a certain degree hostage to Taiwan’s policy on independence, which is in turn an existential matter in DPP politics, would account for Washington’s asperity in its response to Chen’s desire for welcoming, higher profile transit privileges.

So Chen’s getting slapped around a bit.

China watchers will be very interested by Zoellick’s desire to avoid confrontation with China over Taiwan at this time. Again from the Taipei Times:

At another point, as Zoellick was giving an animated defense of the US transit action, he seemed to link it with the fear that Chen's recent actions could provoke a war in the Taiwan Strait between the US and China.

"There are big stakes here where lives could be lost," he said.

"This is the balance ... we want to be supportive of Taiwan while not encouraging those that try to move toward independence. Because let me be very clear: independence means war. And that means American soldiers ..." he said before being interrupted by a questioner.

Admirable views, and ones which I agree with, but seemingly totally out of step with the inexorable triumphalism practiced by the Bush/Cheney administration.

To imply that anxiety over the loss of American lives might be dissuading America from its crusade to bring God’s gift of freedom to the world—or indicate to the Chicoms that we are anything less than eager to nuke it out with them over the Taiwan Strait--is close to political heresy.

This situation implies that the State Department is firmly in control of China policy, at least for the time being, and Zoellick—fresh from his Darfur triumph--is at the heart of it.

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