Wednesday, October 27, 2004

I spoke too soon?

Well, it looks like I jumped the gun in my reading of Colin Powell's visit to China. At the least, Taiwan's Minister of Foreign Affairs Mark Chen thinks that Powell's statement on CNN breached the trust between Taiwan and the US. According to the Washington Times Powell said both:
We want to see both sides not take unilateral action that would prejudice an eventual outcome, a reunification that all parties are seeking.

Taiwan ... does not enjoy sovereignty as a nation.

I'm not as prepared as the minister is to read anything into this. Powell's second statement doesn't strike me as anything new. If in fact Powell said that Taiwan does not enjoy sovereignty as a nation, from the US point of view, this is entirely true. While Taiwan's electorate gets to choose its leaders and the country has a standing army, the US doesn't officially recognize Taiwan, in fact very few countries do. Taiwan's absence from the UN, and the number of de facto embassies in Taipei, which have to operate as cultural and trade offices instead of official diplomatic channels, are but two of a number of conditions that keep Taiwan isolated form the international community. I also can't help but notice that Powell used the word "enjoy." Clearly Taiwan doesn't enjoy sovereignty in the eyes of the world, and for this reason, it does not enjoy all the benefits of sovereignity at home. Perhaps someday it will.

The former statement, at first glance, looks more menacing. Again though, from a US perspective, I'm not so sure that's the case. One of the key points of the US policy regarding China-Taiwan relations is that of "studied ambiguity." Even now, the US holds onto the myth of "one China," but for years US policy has recognized a one China without explicitly stating what that one China consists of, or even who is its rightful heir.

Those of us in Taiwan know the reality on the ground, and its a harsh reality that even Beijing is coming to terms with. Taiwan is no longer seeking "reunification." The ROC as envisioned by Chiang Kai Shek and Chiang Ching-kuo is falling apart at the seams, and the DPP government has made official statements that Taiwan no longer has designs on China. US policies were put in place long before this happened, but for the US to acknowledge the changes taking place in Taiwan could anger Beijing unnecessarily. Powell's statement seems consistent with what the US has been doing for years with regards to Taiwan and China, ignoring the big white elephant in the room.

Then again, I may be out of my depth here. Please explain it to me if I have missed the critical nuance, the slow twist of the shiv.

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