The Nelson Report, the Washington Insider’s Report, has some thoughts on Taiwan.

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US-TAIWAN…while we await Bush/Hu at APEC, and Chen at AEI, debate continues over certain usages last week by NSC Senior Director for Asia Dennis Wilder, and a rumor that the State Department actually wrote a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, complaining about the UN Secretariat’s mistaken interpretation of Taiwan as an international player.

We are assured that while nothing was put in writing to Ban, a representation was made which clarified for the Secretariat its mistaken interpretation, and it has not been repeated, so everyone now is happy to put the incident behind them.

On Wilder, responding last week to whether Bush/Hu might produce another US statement condemning Chen, he used the word “undecided” to describe US policy on Taiwan’s international situation…a usage accurate in summary, but unusual in public discourse, players frankly admit.

As we constantly note, the US-China-Taiwan dialogue approaches arcane levels more common to the Dead Sea Scrolls debate, So any new or unusual usage runs the risk of sounding like a “change in policy”….with all of the consequent “risk to the peaceful status quo” it might put into play.

Not this time, we are officially assured, although the Administration remains deeply concerned that pressure from Chen and the DPP may, presumably inadvertently, force the US to change definitions in ways the DPP presumably would not want…something we have often reported.

That’s among the many concerns as players in Washington, Beijing and Taipei await Bush/Hu and Chen performances tomorrow.

There has also been some kerfluffle (technical political science term for argument) over Deputy Secretary of State Negroponte’s statement, in last Monday’s Phoenix TV interview, that the US is obliged to defend Taiwan by the terms of the Taiwan Relations Act.

As a very junior Capitol Hill staffer directly involved in the TRA, we can testify that while the Congress of that time (1979) very much wanted to find language as strongly as possible indicating continued US defense of Taiwan, despite “normalization” with the PRC, the compromise hammered out with the Carter Administration contained no such direct pledge, or commitment.

The compromise which, quite literally, was hammered out of State and Carter (you can ask then-Asst. Sec/Asia Dick Holbrooke!) was language authorizing continued arms sales, and language stating that it would be a matter of “grave concern” to the Congress if the peaceful status quo in the Taiwan Strait was put at risk - implicitly by the PRC, was the obvious intent, or understanding at that time.

Note, please, the distinctions about “authorizing” arms sales, and who (Congress) would be concerned about the future of Taiwan.

The interesting wrinkle since 2002, enunciated by then-Deputy Secretary of State Zoellick, Sen. John Warner, then-Rep. Jim Leach, and senior US military officials, is that if the peaceful status quo is threatened or altered by, or due to the actions of Taiwan, that Taipei could NOT count on the US automatically coming to its defense against China.

All this from a Republican administration! We have come a long, long way from the Congress which demanded, and got, the TRA…

Obviously, this underlines the importance of the perceptions game being played. And it’s the real point behind all of the warnings from Bush himself, from Wilder, and officials at State, to Chen and the DPP, observers note.

For what it’s worth, we suspect that Negroponte made his mis-statement about the TRA from a desire that his otherwise very frank, very harsh criticisms of Chen and the DPP not seem too unbalanced in Beijing’s direction.

As Negroponte made a point of reminding China, via Phoenix, Taiwan is a vibrant democracy and it is US policy to desire that Beijing find positive ways to interact with Taiwan, including its politicians and people.

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Unfortunately Beijing is not interested in dialogue and indeed, has nothing to gain from it. Meanwhile the news out of Australia is that Bush and Hu found common ground in worrying about the UN referendum.

China and the United States found rare common ground Thursday on Taiwan as Asia Pacific leaders converged for a weekend summit set to be dominated by wrangling over climate change and trade.

In face-to-face talks, US President George W. Bush and Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao criticised a plan by Taiwan’s president for a referendum on joining the United Nations.

Beijing, which regards Taiwan as part of its territory awaiting reunification, fiercely opposes the proposal, and Hu warned Bush that the move could signal a “possibly dangerous” period in the region.

Bush also voiced his concern and the White House pledged to use its influence with Taiwan to try to persuade it to change its mind.

“We also don’t want to see this blown up too big,” Bush’s deputy national security adviser James Jeffrey told reporters.

“We don’t want to see anyone provoked by the actions of the Taiwanese, so for the moment we’re going to stay with our position and continue to exert our good influence on the Taiwanese to see if we can change their position.”

Bush and Hu finding common ground? Not a surprise, really.