Who causes all the trouble in US-Taiwan relations? According Kathrin Hille of the Financial Times, whose reports on Taiwan have been colored by a strong anti-Chen streak (for example), it is our old pal Mad Chen© (”Watch out! He can start a war at any moment!”). First she briefs us on President Chen’s pledge not to launch missiles at China without notifying the US first:

Chen Shui-bian, Taiwan’s president, has pledged to consult the US before firing missiles at China in any potential future conflict, in an attempt to mollify the island’s sole military ally following criticism of Mr Chen for ratcheting up tensions.

Note that the article, instead of writing “following accusations that Chen has been ratcheting up tensions…” it reports “...for ratcheting up tensions” as if it were an established fact that Chen ratchets up tensions. I’ve discussed that particular canard, Chen the Ratcheter, here. And let’s point out again, for the umpteenth time, that ‘tensions’ are created by China’s policy decisions to get upset at Taiwan’s democracy in action. Needless to say, no hint of nuance shall ever cross these pages. Similarly, she follows:

Defence experts called Mr Chen’s pledge a political rather than practical move but said it was a reflection of the current state of relations between Washington and Taipei. “He has clearly been under a lot of pressure from the US recently,” said Wendell Minnick, Asia bureau chief of Defense News, a specialist publication.

US-Taiwan relations have soured in recent years, with Washington feeling Taipei was making insufficient effort to strengthen its defensive capability while the pro-independence Mr Chen and his government pushed a policy agenda that raised tensions with China.

Note that first, Hille fails to report that the US has been strangling relations since 2002. All of this context, noted by former AIT Therese Shaheen, is missing from Hille’s report:

But the lack of interaction goes beyond one-off, questionable decisions such as that. Military officers at the one-star level or above, or the civilian equivalent, are not permitted to meet in Taiwan with their counterparts. While there is serious contingency planning at high levels on both sides, senior U.S. planners and decision makers do not interact with their Taiwan counterparts. The dialogue instead is conducted by proxy at lower levels of government. Even simple meetings are less frequent in recent years. As late as 2003, State and Defense Department officials–albeit at the mid-grade deputy assistant secretary level–were permitted to meet regularly with senior Taiwanese officials including the foreign minister outside of Washington, D.C. That contact no longer takes place. At the highest levels, the U.S.-Taiwan relationship would have to get much closer to even describe it as “arms-length.” No cabinet-level officials have met their Taiwanese counterparts since the Clinton administration.

No US cabinet levels met their Taiwan counterparts since the Clinton administration! …. I’ve also discussed, numerous times, the uncooperative attitude on the arms purchase displayed by the US in refusing to give Taiwan any local production on the subs and so on. Clearly both sides are to blame here. But the media only report on the problems allegedly caused by the Taiwan side.

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Meanwhile, Congress is, by and large, sounding positive notes on Taiwan issues. The Taipei Times reported the other day on a Congressional Panel’s recommendation that the Bush Administration sell F-16s to Taiwan:

A copy of the commission’s draft report was obtained by the Taipei Times. While the report was not yet final, any changes to the latest draft were expected to be only minor “tweaking” for grammar, usage and such, according to a commission source.

In another recommendation, the commission urged the administration to help Taiwan take part in the WHO and international bodies that do not require statehood.

But at the last minute it pulled back on recommendations in an earlier draft that asked the administration to consider Taiwan’s request for a free-trade agreement and to encourage Taiwan and China to boost transportation and other cross-strait links.

“The Commission recommends that Congress encourage the administration to continue to work with Taiwan to modernize its military, enhance Taiwan’s capabilities for operating jointly with US and allied forces, and make available to Taiwan the defensive weapons it needs for its military forces,” the draft recommendation says.

The recommendation comes at a time when the Bush administration is balking at Taiwan’s request for 66 advanced F-16 fighter aircraft. It echoes a resolution passed overwhelmingly by the House of Representatives earlier this month prodding the administration to stop blocking the sale.

Sales would be good for both sides, especially for the US economy and all those workers in the defense industry who vote Republican. You’d think it would be a no-brainer…..

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Stephen Young, the head of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), our officially unofficial representative body in Taiwan, once again said that the UN referendum was a bad thing.

American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Director Stephen Young said yesterday the US government does not support Taiwan’s UN membership bid.
“The US government’s stance is clear,” he said. “We do not support it because it is unnecessary.”

Young made the remarks in Mandarin before attending a Taiwan High Speed Rail Corporation event in Taipei yesterday morning.

Asked whether he supported the government’s torch relay in support of the UN membership campaign using the name “Taiwan,” Young skirted the question by saying he does not jog anymore because he has week knees and that he only climbs Taipei 101 during special events.

In response, Presidential Office spokesman David Lee (李南陽) said that joining the UN using the name “Taiwan” reflects public opinion and is the right of Taiwanese. Lee said the administration would continue to communicate with the US government through various channels to facilitate Washington’s understanding of the initiative.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) said he respected Young’s view. “[Stephen Young] is a representative of a foreign country. We respect him,” Hsieh said when asked for comment.

What Young said was “not news” because the US government has been saying the same thing for the past few months, Hsieh said.

“Young was just expressing the US position, though some may have played up his words, [perhaps] because they coincided with the torch relay,” Hsieh said.

Hsieh said the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) had never respected Young, pointing to their reaction to his calling for the passage of a budget request for an arms procurement package from the US.

“Young urged us to pass the budget, but the KMT never listened to him. Now the KMT refer to Young’s comments [yesterday] as an imperial edict. It’s all about politics,” Hsieh said.

Hsieh nicely deflected Young’s statement into an attack on the KMT — also pointing out for his American friends that the KMT has concretely failed to keep its promises to the US. Smart move. Not that many analysts will pay attention…..

Young’s comment was actually quite milquetoast, all things considered. He condemned the referendum as “unnecessary” — not as a violation of the status quo, or as a move toward independence, simply as superfluous. Further, he failed to register a public opinion on the use of the name “Taiwan.” This is in keeping with recent official US comments on the referendum — there have been few since the initial strongly negative reaction. Apparently the US has decided to maintain a studied silence and let China carry the ball — and what did China do? We got Hu Jintao’s surrender demand peace offer — and no threats from the top (the flow of hate from lower down on the Chinese side continues, unabated, however). Note that China’s leader at least attempted to appear conciliatory — sort of like a chronic wife beater buying his wife a rose — but the appearance was there. Meanwhile the flow of investment and people from Taiwan to China continues unabated….. there are some ominous things about the US position that I don’t like — having just finished anew Irving Stone’s brilliant The Hidden History of the Korean War, a primer in how to read the media — but go read it for yourself.

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On the humorous side, casino owner and billionaire Steve Wynn stakes out his claim to the award for the World’s Dumbest Commenter on Taiwan affairs. This report courtesy of AP in Businessweek:

Wynn also addressed China’s relations with Taiwan, which broke away from the mainland after a civil war in 1949.

“Taiwan is like Maine, or Washington. It was theirs (China’s). And it got taken away. It’s like Hawaii. And they want it back. And most of the people in Taiwan want to go back.”

Taiwan’s elected president, Chen Shui-bian, has said he is against reunification with the mainland and has claimed China aims to take the island by force by 2015. China considers Taiwan to be a part of its territory.

Wynn said his comments about Taiwan were prompted by his conversations with businesspeople who operate in both jurisdictions.

“Taiwan will join China … on some terms yet to be defined,” he told the conference. “There’s an amateur opinion from a casino operator.”

Actually, for a completely stupid and uninformed opinion, Wynn does hit on one point, quite unintentionally — Taiwan is in a way like Hawaii, stolen by a powerful minority from another country who then attempted to annex it to their own country…