Sunday, April 01, 2007

October 2006 CRS Report on US-Taiwan Relations

Last October the Congressional Research Service, whose job is to lay out policy options for Congress, described some of the issues in US-Taiwan relations. Some of it is quite good. The section that discusses "Credibility" gives an excellent overview of the falling out between the Bush Administration and Chen Shui-bian, and the Bush Administration's ongoing failure to understand the domestic political situation that drives Chen's open advocacy of independence. The report does give some views from the Taiwan side:

Some Taiwan government officials are more directly critical of the United States, describing U.S. officials as being unappreciative of the heavy domestic pressures on President Chen that help form his actions. They suggested U.S.officials are being too careless of Taiwan's democracyand either overly solicitous of the PRC or "afraid of Beijing." According to one Taiwan official, it is difficult to understand why Taiwan, as a democracy, does not seem to be a higher priority for the United States when democratization is a chief preoccupation of the George W. Bush Administration. According to another, people in Taiwan wonder why, when China pressures other countries to accept the "one China" principle, the United States does not criticize China for defining Taiwan as an inalienable part of Chinese territory. This theme of concern for U.S.-Taiwan communication has been frequently repeated in recent years in discussions with Taiwan officials.

US officials, by contrast, say that the US message to Taiwan is clear:

Moreover, say U.S. officials, U.S. messages to Taiwan officials are portrayed clearly as being from the “very highest level” of the U.S. government -- above the Cabinet Secretary level -- and are conveyed “unambiguously.” For instance, according to one U.S. official, “there is no possibility — none” that the Taiwan government missed the content or the level of the U.S. message of concern about President Chen’s National Unification Council decision. That message reportedly was conveyed clearly early in 2006 — not under the auspices of the U.S. AIT office, but bya delegation of U.S. government officials sent to Taiwan bythe White House. This delegation reportedly included Dennis Wilder (National Security Council), Clifford Hart (Department of State), and according to one account, two other senior U.S. officials from other U.S. government departments. The problem, according to some U.S. officials, is not that Taiwan officials are not hearing the U.S. message, it is that they do not like the message they are hearing. The problem is further compounded, some former U.S. officials say, by other American sources not part of the U.S. government who in meetings with Taiwan audiences are sometimes said to be discrediting the official U.S. message.

The report also covers the Arms Package, though it downplays the US role in causing the problem. The section on the anti-Chen demonstrations and the corruption regrettably leaves out vital facts, though it correctly identifies some of the concerns:

.....The following day, the Vice Chairman of the National Science Council was taken into custody on suspicion of a profiteering scandal involving the award of a contract to reduce vibrations from a new high-speed railway line in Taiwan County. In addition, Chen’s wife, Wu Shu- chen, is suspected of accepting vouchers from a Taiwandepartment store in exchange for lobbying, and Chen reportedly has been accused of spending money inappropriately from secret government accounts and then falsifying receipts to justify the expenditures. The scandals have helped worsen Chen’s abysmally low approval rating, put at 16% in one survey on May19, 2006. In an effort to limit the damage, Chen on June 1, 2006, delegated authority for “day-to-day control” of the
government to Premier Su Tseng-chang and has accepted the resignations of a number of his key advisors. Taiwan’s opposition parties, however, are calling for Chen’s resignation, and on June 27, 2006, held a vote on a recall initiative in the legislature. While Chen survived that recall effort (it failed to get the 2/3 majority needed to pass), the legislature voted on September 29, 2006, to consider a second recall motion in October.

Some U.S. officials are concerned in particular about the large, organized public protests that are regularly occurring in Taiwan because of the corruption scandals. They worry that the level of anti-Chen sentiment being whipped up by some of President Chen’s opponents may lead to more violent protests or to extra-judicial measures for addressing the corruption allegations. They worry that judicial and democratic processes in Taiwan may not be allowed to function appropriately in this case of alleged official malfeasance. Such an outcome, they caution, could damage Taiwan democracy rather than strengthen it, and could be especially problematic for U.S. policy toward Taiwan.

Here the CRS report fails to mention that the arrest of the NSC Vice Chairman was an act of revenge led by the firms who had lost the bid in conjunction with a pro-Blue prosecutor's office, who called as "experts" in the case scientists working for the two companies who had lost the bids! It is also regrettable that it fails to note that the "large public protests" were a pan-Blue affair. Sad.

Whatever its flaws, it is an excellent resource for getting a look at the way experts in the US understand Taiwan.

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