Gerrit speaking at the meet up.

Gerrit van Der Wees of the Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA) spoke at the Meet Up this morning in Taipei, to a relatively large crowd of Taiwan supporters.

He began his talk by noting that FAPA started in 1982. It now consists of 56 chapters throughout the US, and represents a grass-roots network that can be tapped to contact US congresspersons on Taiwan issues.

Gerrit the early days when FAPA was just getting started. At that time the Kaohsiung 8 had been arrested, and nobody knew a thing about Taiwan. Lynn Miles, one of the most important activists from the early days, had been publishing a newsletter on Taiwan. Gerrit took over publication and turned it into Taiwan Communique, one of the first voices for Taiwan in the US.

“Now there are some [in Congress] who do understand,” he observed, “but nowhere near enough. There are still people who say ‘Taiwan? My biggest moment in Taiwan relations was meeting Madame Chiang Kai-shek…’”

According to Gerrit, support for Taiwan in Congress and the Administration has twin roots — first, the old conservative republicans, supporters of the ROC, like the legendary Jesse Helms. Somehow this anti-communist crowd “made a seamless transition to the new period” and continue to be supportive of Taiwan. This includes people like Dana Rohrabacher and Tom Tancredo.

The other root of Taiwan support consists of liberal Democrats like Edward Kennedy, Stephen Solarz, and Claiborne Pell, who spoke out in favor of democracy and ending martial law. In the 1990s these two roots kind of came together, Gerrit explained. Broad support for Taiwan existed in the US Congress, and almost every resolution in its favor was passed by lopsided margins. But at the same time during the Clinton and Bush Administration people who adhered to realpolitik policies came to the fore. They think that China is big and important and Taiwan is small and not so important. Biden, Lugar in the center are like this, but on the outsides of the spectrum, there’s support for Taiwan. Bipartisan support. Gerrit remarked that it was strange that the ends of the political spectrum supported Taiwan, but the center was not so supportive.

Of course, he went on to explain, after 9/11 and Iraq, Taiwan has been a side issue. As I personally have observed many times on this blog, the main focus has been on Iraq. Gerrit noted that there is no way to go around that problem. Traction for Taiwan in the US Congress is difficult to obtain at present.

Gerrit said that FAPA has worked to get Congress to speak out on the UN referendum. This has been more successful on the house side, resulting in letters and the introduction of a resolution by Congressmen Garret of NJ. The Senate is harder because it is more careful and doesn’t like to stick its neck out. Tim Johnson of SD is the current leader of Taiwan Caucus, but has not been active due to a stroke last year. Sen. Inhofe of OK is co-Chair on the Republican side. They like to do quiet diplomacy with the Administration, and don’t make statements or send letters, but they do quiet diplomacy and have asked the Administration to quiet down.

Recently FAPA has been pushing for a “high level” resolution that would enable high level Taiwan officials to visit the US. It was passed by the House, but there was not enough support in the Senate. But then Gerrit posed a question about tactics: if Ma wins, do we want high level contacts? Or should we go for high level visits regardless of who is in office? There is also a resolution supporting defense needs asking for the sale of F-16s to Taiwan but the Bush Administration wants to wait until after the election. Gerrit said in response to my question that there is no feeling that the US won’t sell, as both Congress and the Administration want to sell, it is merely a question of timing. Promotion of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is led by the Taiwan government, and FAPA plays supportive role. He noted with satisfaction that a resolution praising democracy in support of Taiwan’s elections passed a few days ago. To China’s intense distaste, I might add.

Gerrit went on to say that in the Bush Administration, the initial instincts were positive, as with Clinton Administration. Both appeared open to new, open, flexible policy. A downward trend began. The Legislative Yuan blocking the defense budget hurt relations. Further, there was not enough communication to the US side on initiatives such as the NUC closing, which would have reduced opposition. On the US side, a number of prominent officials didn’t like Chen Shui-bian, or the DPP. But Gerrit was pleased to observe that a new team was in a number of positions and expects to start moving upwards again in a more positive direction.

Third reason for the downward trend was that US did need China for North Korea, Sudan, and Iran. So they told Taiwan to just be quiet and don’t make noise. On the Taiwan side Chen Shui-bian felt he let himself get pushed around, and then, later on, he started to dig in. Lots of people felt he never should have agreed to the Five No’s. At the same time Chen was digging himself in, Bush was digging himself in over Iraq, Gerrit said. The result was that a number of insiders have criticized Bush for neglecting East Asia for Iraq. Hey, me too!

Gerrit said that on both the Republican and Democrat side there is a desire to put relations with Taiwan on track again. Consider the Shriver and Blumenthal report: Why Taiwan Matters, which has lately been getting press here. They are trying to increase Taiwan’s space within the one-China framework. Shriver and Blumenthal, Gerrit described, are close to McCain. The Obama campaign also wants Taiwan out of the negative spiral, he said.

How have policies of the American Chambers of Commerce evolved? Gerrit says he has contact with Rupert Hammond-Chambers of the US-Taiwan Business Council. Hammond-Chambers jokes that over the years, the organization’s title has changed from the US-ROC-Taiwan Business Council to the US-Taiwan-ROC business council and has now become just the US-Taiwan Business Council. Their goal is a US Taiwan FTA. Against this the Bush Administration argues that not many companies want this agreement, but Hammond-Chambers has obtained significant support for it. He has also been working in support of the F-16 resolution.

Gerrit then opened the field for questions.

Q: What about the motivation of Congress?
Gerrit said that support comes from the anti-China crowd among conservatives, from the Midwest because Taiwan is big buyer of Midwestern agricultural products, and then also there are people who support Taiwan because it is the right thing to do. Gerrit instanced Tom Lantos, a Holocaust survivor who had also fought the Communists in Hungary, and who was a strong supporter of democracy. He had really used his position as head of the foreign affairs committee to support Taiwan and democracy everywhere. Sherrod Brown is big voice for Taiwan as well, in the Senate.

Q: Is the US Congress realizing that the appeasement policy is not going to work?
Gerrit laughed and said, no. They think they need China. Gerrit said FAPA had spoken with Tom Christensen, who said that the US works only for its interests and is not co-managing Taiwan relations with China. Although this blogger should add that many independent observers have come to the conclusion that yes, indeed, China and the US are suppressing Taiwan in concert. Gerrit said, however, that Christensen said that they “take China’s claims into account.” Hahaha.

Q: What about the election here? What’s the view?
Gerrit answered that the US says it does not take sides, but clearly the attacks on the DPP referendum, without similar attacks on the KMT referendum, are pro-KMT.

Q: Given the decline of US power in the world, has there been a switch to going to Europe to gain support?
Gerrit responded that (1) US is still big and influential in Asia, and only country in world to stand up if China did something. Europe does not yet have that action oriented attitude. (2) FAPA has reached out to Europe and fostered contacts there, particularly in central European countries. There is a lot of support for Taiwan, but they feel constrained by the EU, having just become members of the EU. “We hope they do more and become more forceful voice for Taiwan in EU,” he added. Gerrit expanded this in a subsequent question about the WHO, saying that national parliaments are very strongly in favor of WHO entry, but at the EU level there is less support.