Taiwan Fears China Is Chipping Away at U.S. Support
BY WENDELL MINNICK
WASHINGTON — China is having success in its diplomatic and economic campaign to weaken international support for Taiwan, the self-governing island’s de facto ambassador to Washington said.
Joseph Wu, whose official title is representative of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO), argues that Beijing has used diplomatic and economic thuggery and threats to weaken U.S. resolve to defend Taiwan and undermine Taipei’s efforts to get recognition in the United Nations.
Washington has become increasingly critical of Taiwan’s democratic initiatives. In particular, President Chen Shui-Bian has been pushing for a public referendum on allowing Taiwan to join the United Nations. The issue has irritated both Beijing and Washington.
Wu said U.S. officials were becoming addicted to China’s diplomatic and economic influence in situations from North Korea to the Middle East, and Beijing has used this belief to cause a rift between Washington and Taipei.
A former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs called that an overstatement.
“Certain challenges may be best addressed through U.S.-China cooperation, and thus it makes complete sense the U.S. should explore possible cooperation with Beijing on these matters,” said Randy Schriver, now with Washington-based Armitage International. “But remember, the United States still sanctions China for Tiananmen activities, still criticizes China for human rights abuses, still sells arms to Taiwan and still welcomes the Dalai Lama to Washington for an audience with the president. If Washington was overly dependent on Beijing for diplomacy and trade, you’d likely see a very different approach on these and other matters.”
Beijing has reinforced its threats with actions. It denied U.S. naval ships permission to enter Hong Kong after the exiled Tibetan leader visited Washington and the U.S. approved additional arms sales to Taipei.
Wu said the Chinese have become more aggressive militarily.
“They use their ground radar to lock onto Taiwan and Japan military aircraft. They seem to have more confidence,” he said.
Wu fears a weakened Taiwan will result in an unnecessary war in the region at a time when the U.S. Pacific Command has been moving troops and materiel to the Mideast.
He argued that a weak Taiwan military will encourage Chinese military adventurism, while a strong Taiwan military would foster regional stability.
U.S. officials declined four times in 2007 to accept Taiwan’s letter of request for price and availability for 66 F-16s. Wu said the fighter jets would help the island defend itself without U.S. support. Without them and other weapons, the U.S. military may have to fight a devastating war in the Taiwan Strait.
Schriver agrees that a “strong deterrent capability for Taiwan bolsters peace and stability in the cross-strait environment, and thus makes the region more stable.”
Support for Taiwan is eroding in the U.S. Congress, long a steadfast advocate, Wu said: “The Chinese influence of Congress is growing.”
Forces inside Taiwan have helped erode external support, he said. The pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has been more aggressive about pushing for freedom from Chinese influence. Ten years ago, a majority of Taiwan citizens identified themselves as Chinese, while today, some 80 percent self-identify as Taiwanese, Wu said.
The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), which lost the 2000 presidential election, has since been working against the rival DPP. KMT leaders have traveled to Beijing to pay respect to the Chinese Communist Party, while KMT legislators have blocked proposed defense budgets and security measures.
This year, the government finally managed to push through a budget for P-3C Orions and eight diesel submarines promised by the Bush administration in 2001.
Wu argues that Taiwan appears more divided than it actually is.
What China fears most is a DPP victory in both the legislature and presidency, which could push the KMT out of political power. The DPP’s Frank Hsieh and the KMT’s Ma Ying-jeou face each other in the March presidential election.
Wu said Beijing had harassed Taiwanese delegations at international meetings with nongovernment organizations (NGO), coercing hospital, firefighter and hairdressing groups and beauty contestants to change Taiwan’s title to “Chinese Taipei.” Chinese thugs have shown up at many NGO conferences and ripped Taiwan flags from flagpoles.
In one incident watched by millions of Taiwanese on local TV, Chinese thugs bullied a Taiwanese beauty pageant contestant to tears.
The result has been increasing distaste for Beijing within Taiwan and fears that Chinese rule over Taiwan would be brutal.