Friday, June 01, 2007

State Department Shames US. Again

Last week I blogged on China's reaction to the prospect that President Chen Shui-bian might actually visit the National Press Club Wizard of Oz style, by teleconferencing. Naturally the Chinese, with their obsessive focus on annexing Taiwan, objected to pixels containing Chen's image appearing at the National Press Club. At the time I chortled to think how childishly the Chinese were behaving.

Little did I know.

Chen articulated Taiwan's independence clearly and forcefully, and also slammed the One China policy as appeasement. A number of prominent Taiwan supporters in the US were present, and the event appeared to go very well. The Taipei Times reported:

Chen said China was damaging the "status quo" in the Taiwan Strait and the democratic community should not turn a blind eye to it.

"History has taught us one important lesson: Appeasement breeds aggression," he said.

"To maintain a lasting peace in the Taiwan Strait and ensure security and stability in the Asia-Pacific region, the international community must send the right signals to China," he said.

The international community must guide China toward democratization and join forces to build a more democratic, freer and safer world, Chen said.

The points Chen makes here are all pet projects of the US State Department -- ignoring the consequences of China's military buildup, pushing an interpretation of "One China" that includes Taiwan in China, and adopting a position of obsequious service to Beijing. Oops.

On Thursday the US State Department shamed the US unconscionably when it struck back at Chen Shui-bian on behalf of China. The PRC is indeed fortunate; not many countries are lucky enough to have such ardent supporters in relevant policy positions in the foreign ministry of their chief rival:

US State Department officials dealing with Taiwan were angered by President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) teleconference at the National Press Club in Washington on Tuesday in which he asserted Taiwan's independence to an international audience, with at least one official charging that Chen's appearance violated the US ban on Taiwanese presidents visiting Washington, Taipei Times sources said.

The anger did not necessarily extend beyond the department's East Asia and Pacific bureaus, or reflect the feeling of the entire Bush administration, the sources said, but it did highlight what many Taiwan supporters in Washington feel is a basic anti-Taiwan, pro-China bent among key State Department officials who play an important role in determining US cross-strait policy.

In other words, officials within the US State Department -- thankfully not the whole State Department -- decided to take the exact position that Beijing had advanced: that pixels containing Chen Shui-bian's image should not be allowed to re-assemble themselves on digital screens inside the territory of the United States, especially when accompanied by audio. This revolutionary interpretation of US policy is indeed a well thought-out position, with powerful implications for YouTube, the world's media, and the major image hosting services -- not to mention US citizens who teleconference to verboten countries (there goes my blog interview with Kim Jung-Il). Does this new assertion that One China means no Presidential teleconferences from Taiwan apply only to real-time audio and video? Or is it a complete ban on all A-bian pix? What about telephone calls? But let's not stop there...what if the National Press Club had sponsored Real-Time Chat With Chen Shui-bian. Would the State Department now be reviewing ways of punishing MSN? Mayhap we can look forward to reading letters like:

"Dear Editor:

As you know, the President of Taiwan is participating in an online chat with the National Press Club next Saturday. While we respect the right of free speech, the US State Department wishes to remind you that any use of "Orz" directed at the Taiwan Leader in which the "O" is more than 1.5 times the height of the "r" is a violation of the One China policy.


Rod Bendover
State Department

What is the State Department going to do when the first 3-D tech comes out? Dear Captain Picard: It has come to our attention that Chen Shui-bian has been appearing on the holodeck....

But we were not shamed by this act alone. No, the State Department went out of its way to humiliate the leader of one of the nation's top trading partners, the source of tens of thousands of foreign students, an important location for OEM/ODM manufacturers for US labels, and a staunch ally: not a single State Department official appeared at the function. The Taipei Times dolefully reported:

One prominent State Department official responsible for Taiwan policy told colleagues before the speech that nobody "in my chain," or section, would be allowed to attend, saying that Chen was "using teleconference technology to circumvent the ban on Taiwanese presidents coming to Washington," a Taipei Times source said.

As a result, no US official attended the teleconference, as far as can be determined from Press Club officials and other informed attendees.

It is understood that Taiwan's de facto ambassador to the US Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) tried to convince State Department officials to send somebody to the event, but that his efforts failed.

A department official denied any official effort to boycott the speech, saying that "this is a private organization holding the event, and we would not discourage freedom of speech."

Memo to the State Department Taiwan Desk: Your panda's in the mail.

Chen's teleconference neatly exposed just how outdated the ridiculous the ban on having Taiwan Presidents in Washington is. Technology has annihilated this policy. Time to think outside the box, eh?

Let me be clear: appeasement is a rational response to difficult circumstances. No one wants war. But it is one thing to appease the expansionists in Beijing; it is quite another to bow to them so deeply that Hu Jin-tao's toejam gives you dental caries. The State Department's China section is now little more than a tool of Beijing on the Taiwan question, for this is not the first time it has embarrassed the nation by serving the interests of China rather than the US. Regrettably, the State Department's intelligent and hardworking Taiwan Desk officer, Clifford Hart, is not only under the China Desk, but his "Taiwan expertise" was developed by serving as a US diplomat in Beijing. It is time for the State Department to adopt a neutral position on Taiwan, move the Taiwan desk out from under the China Desk, and get an officer in there to head it who has actual Taiwan expertise, Taiwan experience, and above all, some real empathy for the island.

Note further that the Taipei Times article says this is not the entire State Department -- this is merely officials within it. Has the State Department lost control of its China section? Is this an example of deniability? What kind of signals is the US sending when different departments within State -- never mind the US government -- appear to be able to make their own China policy, at will?

Every time the State Department serves Beijing it makes a fool of itself. Why hasn't it learned this lesson? Had the State Department simply kept its collective mouth shut, it would not now be in the position of trying to determine when pixels containing Chen Shui-bian's image may be re-assembled on screens within the US, and when they may not. Certainly China had made its case to the National Press Club, been rebuffed, and had fallen silent. The Chinese are well aware they cannot win every battle and knew how they would look had their objections become more public and more strident. Hence, silence. Thus, had the State Department kept its mouth shut, this would not even be an issue at all. Nothing would have happened, just as nothing happened when Chen rectified the names of certain companies, and "froze" the NUC, and spoke at the FAPA banquet. Thanks to the State Department's loyal service to Beijing on these issues, however, they received maximum publicity -- and in fact, the publicity has stopped being about what Chen was doing, and increasingly, has become the story of how the State Department has overreacted.

The failure of the State Department to send even a janitor to watch a teleconference by Taiwan's President in the nation's capital shows a total lack of class unworthy of a great nation that aspires to world leadership. I hope that our diplomats, publicly or privately, will have the grace to forward an apology to the President and people of Taiwan, as well as the insight to change directions in response to lessons learned.


channing said...

I personally think the US remains woefully unprepared to be a qualified mediator in the relations between TW and mainland China. Departments shirk responsibility; official statements haven't changed for years. I think the US government is just trying to "wing it" and ends up being very vague as they prioritize other tasks deemed more important.

JZ said...

Choosing Beijing or Taipei, it is obviously Beijing is more important in nearly all conditions. The US State Department is serving the best interests for the US. Supporting Taiwan Independence is not in the interest of the US, and that is also obvious.

Anonymous said...

The State Department is ridiculous... what is going on?

Nice post.

Anonymous said...

Excuse my language Michael but those shitheads need to just....ahhhh! I'm really upset.

I would really recommend sending this exact letter that you just wrote, to the State Department.


Tony Snow pisses me off sometimes too.

Anonymous said...

"Supporting Taiwan Independence is not in the interest of the US, and that is also obvious."

The question here isn't about support or opposition. It's about free speech.

The U.S. State Department needs to remember that free speech is one of the paramount values of America. Particularly free POLITICAL speech. It is a VITAL interest of America.

If the State Dept. is to serve America, then it cannot be allowed to forget that.

Roderick Taylor said...

zhj: The idea Supporting Beijing over Taiwan is in the best interests of the US is nothing but propaganda. Something a lot of people are happy to Parrot. You say "in nearly all conditions" but you fail to mention one.

Keeping China stable, so that the world taking advantage of the cheap labour is the US's predominant interest. The authoritarians in Beijing are a liability as far as this is concerned and one day they will be a threat to the security of the US.

"Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer." -Sun Tzu is perhaps the state departments current strategy.

Amy Lin said...

Thank you for bring this to light. As Program Director of the Ambassador Program for the Formosa Foundation, I recently concluded the Program having the participants meeting with 132 members of Congress in Washington D.C. One of the things we asked for was to lift the restrictions imposed by the State Department over high-level visits between U.S. and Taiwan officials. I am happy to say that Congress is overwhelmingly supportive. There is a House-Senate joint resolution already in the works and could soon be put on the floors for debate and vote.

Anonymous said...

Just to point out, the State Department also sent AIDS activist Regan Hoffman to Tiawan. What a shame. Choose your words wisely my friend.

Thomas said...

Can't you see Chen's actions are nothing more than stunts to divert attention from his family corruption scandals?

I'm not fond of Beijing's self-righteous behavior, but I don't think the view here is fair, either.