Saturday, June 10, 2006

Chen Reiterates Four Noes Pledge, US Ecstatic

The Taipei Times reports on the US sigh of relief that Chen was promised not to do what he couldn't do anyway (does no one intelligent advise the US government on Taiwan politics? Yes, they do, and in a moment we'll see what's really going on):

The US heaped uncharacteristically warm praise on President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) on Thursday for pledges he made after a meeting with American Institute in Taiwan Chairman Raymond Burghardt that reaffirmed the so-called "four noes" Chen made in his 2000 and 2004 inaugural addresses.

The commitments Chen made to the US and President George W. Bush since he was first elected president "will not change. There is absolutely no chance that they will change," Chen said after meeting Burghardt.

In response, the Taiwanese government yesterday expressed its thanks and appreciation for the US' positive reaction.

In a statement, the State Department said it was "pleased" by comments Chen made on Thursday in which he promised not to alter the four noes during his remaining two years in office.

"The United States attaches profound importance to these pledges, which are the cornerstone of cross-strait peace and stability," the special State Department statement said.

Chen is stupid. Instead of making cosmetic changes in the law, he should go ahead and build missiles, point them at neighboring countries and threaten to annex them, forth at the mount about using nuclear weapons, and massively expand his military budget. Then the US government would hail him as a solid partner, and a force for stability. Like China, for example.

OK, I'll stop the sarcasm.

In case you were wondering what Chen has promised not to do, the article lays it out.

The four noes refer to his pledges not to declare independence, change the national name, push for sovereignty in the Constitution or promote a referendum on the issue of independence or unification with China.

Richard Bush, an admirable scholar and gentleman, who used to head up AIT, pronounced Chen's promises good:

So, Chen's policy statement on Thursday, "because it is so reassuring to the United States, and to the PRC, and to the people of Taiwan, is worthy of praise and endorsement," Bush says.

Regarding the NUC episode, Bush said the department "seems to have made a judgement that getting a positive reaffirmation [of the four noes] is much more important at this stage in reassuring everybody than looking back to other issues [such as the NUC]," Bush said.

John Tkacik, a leading Taiwan expert with the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, pointed out in an e-mail that Chen's statement after the Burghardt meeting "left out the fifth pledge -- not to abolish the National Unification Council."

The reason for that, Tkacik said, was that the four initial pledges were made directly to Burghardt and current AIT Taiwan director Stephen Young just before the 2000 election after extended negotiations with the Clinton administration.

"The fifth pledge was one that Chen thought up all on his own, and was not the product of negotiations ... It is also interesting that the State Department is now ignoring the fifth pledge," Tkacik told the Taipei Times. "I think the dust has cleared away."

Iris Ho (何燕青) of the pro-independence lobbying group, Formosan Association for Public Affairs, interpreted the department's statement as "a welcoming gesture" that the department "chose to respond within 24 hours after Chen met with Burghardt. Some probably would even interpret this statement as a subtle US confidence vote in Chen," she said.

The State Department has longstanding ties to the KMT and it is very unlikely that Richard Bush's words should be interpreted as an endorsement of Chen in any way, shape, or form. The Nelson Report also discourages FAPA's conclusion.

Upshot: there is no way that Chen could stage a referendum or alter the Constitution, or change the country's name, as the public massively opposes changes in the status quo, and the legislature is not under DPP control. And Chen's public support has evaporated. The ROC Presidency is weak and Chen can do nothing.Hence the US government has gotten its knickers in a knot about nothing at all. Right? Wrong.

Meanwhile the Nelson Report says that the US is not so much endorsing Chen as it is pleading for stability.

From both US and Chinese viewpoints, instability by definition risks statements or actions by Chen, and other political leaders, which might reignite the larger concerns about Cross Strait stability which caused all of the problems from Jan. 29, sources explain.

Unofficially, of course, there are major worries about the implications of Chen being forced out...not the least being that by comparison to his vice president, Annette Lu, Chen is the soul of moderation and discretion when it comes to pushing Taiwan's independence.

The Nelson Report, an insider look at what's going on in the Beltway, is widely read, and it appears US officials are trying to send signals to the KMT as well. I hope they were explicit and sharp. One reason that Ma Ying-jeou might be playing the reluctant leader here is precisely because forcing out Chen could have serious repercussions for the KMT's welcome in the US, where above all officials hate instability. But note this key comment from the Nelson Report:

As we reported two weeks ago, this private note, delivered by the former chief Asia staffer for Vice President Cheney, Steve Yates, detailed Chen's argument that his inaugural pledge was no longer valid because of China's unilateral actions which alter the status quo...the missile buildup, the Anti-Secession Law, the red-carpet treatment for KMT visits to the mainland last summer.

So today's State Department response can be seen to be not just in praise of Chen, despite US concerns, but also a tacit endorsement of Chen's basic "brief" on actions by China which threaten the status-quo.

Chen originally argued that his pledges were invalidated thanks to China's aggression, including passing the Anti-Succession Law. The Nelson Report implies that the US response to Chen is a public endorsement not necessarily of Chen, but at least tacitly, of his argument about China's desire to annex the island. Perhaps this announcement should be read as a public response intended: (1) to signal the Blues that fostering instability on Taiwan is not in anyone's interest, least of all theirs; and (2) to signal Beijing that it can't keep unilaterally altering the status quo; and (3) to signal Beijing that it can bring Chen to heel. Perhaps.

It is unfortunate that the signal the US is trying to send is so subtle and looks too much like it is only bringing Chen to heel. I suspect many analysts in the US government think Ma Ying-jeou is going to be different somehow, if he gets elected in 2008. I hope someone takes the time to disabuse them of that notion. Ma is an ideologue even worse than Chen, given to shooting off at the mouth, and not nearly as intelligent as Chen is. He gets a free pass on his many sillinesses because the media in Taiwan is rabidly pro-Blue. But Ma himself draws his strongest support from the Deep Blues in the KMT, and he wouldn't be doing that if they suspected he didn't share their pro-China, Japan-hating, US-patronizing, and Taiwan-despising attitudes. I have no idea how anyone could imagine that a pro-China, anti-Japan politician could lead an island that is going to be the linchpin of a security arrangement in Northeast Asia that is aimed at China and depends on Japan's cooperation. The day will come when our State Department will look back on the Chen era with great fondness. In other words, the time to support the DPP is now, folks.

But this article was not without its humorous moments. As the US government and Chen exchanged pleasantries, and Chen reiterated his promises, the Taipei Times reported:

The foreign minister denied Taipei had received any message from Washington of the need to reiterate the "four noes."

Even at this late date, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs still refuses to admit that the US was peeved.

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