Cablegate: Media Reaction: U.S.-Taiwan Relations
DE RUEHIN #1580/01 1970828
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 160828Z JUL 07
FM AIT TAIPEI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5992
INFO RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 7028
RUEHHK/AMCONSUL HONG KONG 8275
UNCLAS AIT TAIPEI 001580
DEPARTMENT FOR INR/R/MR, EAP/TC, EAP/PA, EAP/PD - BROOKE SPELLMAN
DEPARTMENT PASS AIT/WASHINGTON
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: OPRC KMDR KPAO TW
SUBJECT: MEDIA REACTION: U.S.-TAIWAN RELATIONS
Summary: Taiwan's major Chinese-language dailies focused July 14-16
news coverage on the legislators' elections and the presidential
election slated for early 2008, and on a rally in Taipei Saturday
marking the 20th anniversary of the lifting of martial law in
Taiwan. In terms of editorials and commentaries, a news analysis in
the pro-unification "United Daily News" discussed Washington's
reported suspension of the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan. The
article criticized the Chen Shui-bian administration's manipulation
of the referendum on the island's bid to join the United Nations
under the name "Taiwan" and called the suspension of the arms deal
"the price for hugging the United States' legs [i.e., acting like a
docile child]." A column in the "United Daily News" also lashed out
at the Chen administration's efforts in pushing for the signing of a
free trade agreement with the United States. An op-ed in the
pro-independence, English-language "Taipei Times," written by
Richard Holloran, a writer based in Hawaii, said the United States'
support for Taiwan is dwindling. A separate op-ed in the "Taipei
Times," written by Professor John Copper at Rhodes College in
Memphis, however, said "in coming months, it is difficult to
conceive of Taiwan not becoming an issue in the U.S. presidential
campaign." End summary.
A) "The Price for Hugging the United States' Legs"
Journalist Lee Chih-teh noted in an analysis in the pro-unification
"United Daily News" [circulation: 400,000] (7/15):
"The Executive Yuan, via powerful manipulation, has successfully
reversed [a previous decision by its Referendum Review Committee]
regarding the referendum on 'Taiwan's bid to join the United Nations
under the name Taiwan.' Before the applause for celebrating such a
success has even died out, the United States has already conveyed a
message of penalty -- namely, the Taiwan military's 'Feng Sun
Project' [to purchase 66 F-16C/D fighter jets from the United
States] has been suspended as a result of the U.S. State
Department's objection. One cannot help but wonder if the Green
politicians can understand that this is the price they have to pay
for 'hugging the United States' legs [a Chinese expression that
roughly translates as 'behaving like a docile child toward one's
"On Taiwan's part, following the power transfer in Taiwan in 2000,
relations between two sides of the Taiwan Strait first came to a
standstill because the DPP had deep doubts about Beijing, which, on
the other hand, said it would 'listen to [President Chen
Shui-bian's] words and watch his deeds.' After that, cross-Strait
relations quickly deteriorated because Chen and the Green
politicians constantly manipulated ethnic issues and cross-Strait
conflicts for political gains. The collapse in cross-Strait
relations left Taiwan no option in the game played by Washington,
Beijing and Taipei but to lean entirely toward the United States.
"'Hugging the legs' [of the United States] is of course a viable
strategy if one just looks at the conflicts between the United
States and China. But the question is that other than bilateral
conflicts, Washington and Beijing still share common interests. The
top priority [for the two] right now is nothing but 'cross-Strait
stability and unchanged status quo,' and any side that seeks to
affront such common interests will have to be penalized. ..."
B) "What Kind of a Policy Is this?"
Journalist Sun Yang-ming wrote in the "United Notes" column in the
pro-unification "United Daily News" [circulation: 400,000] (7/14):
"... In addition to using the 'transit stops [in the United States]'
to fool the Taiwan people [into thinking the United States still
strongly backs Taiwan], the Bian administration's relations toward
the United States can now only focus on the signing of a so-called
'free trade agreement' (FTA). Without a doubt, it will be great
news for Taiwan if a U.S.-Taiwan FTA is signed. But anyone with
common sense knows that this would be 'mission impossible' during
the term of office of the Bian administration.
"Former AIT Taipei Director Douglas Paal once lashed out at the Bian
administration, saying that the latter must have ulterior political
intents behind its move to push for an FTA with the United States.
In fact, even if Paal did not mention it, anyone in the diplomatic
circle knows that an FTA is a highly political matter. If one looks
at the countries that have signed FTAs with the United States,
including Israel, Singapore, and South Korea, one will see that each
of them is a country of high strategic importance. Isn't Taiwan
hitting its head against the wall when it fails to define its
importance [to the United States]...while still pushing for an FTA
with the United States? The Americans will naturally be suspicious
of the Bian administration's intentions behind its push for the FTA.
"In addition, given the great political significance in signing an
FTA, it will surely create great conflict between Washington and
Beijing. Does it sound likely that the Bush administration would
confront Beijing just to act in concert with a government's policy
that runs counter to its own interests? Should the Bush
administration really agree to sign an FTA with the Bian
administration, or even just to discuss it, it will be regarded as a
move to endorse the Bian administration's Taiwan independence
policy. Will the United States ask for trouble? Can the Bush
administration be that stupid? ..."
C) "US Support for Taipei Dwindling"
Richard Holloran, a writer based in Hawaii, opined in the
pro-independence, English-language "Taipei Times" [circulation:
"... US support for far-away Taipei is dwindling, making it possible
that Washington might not help defend Taiwan against China.
Consider the subtle change in US President George W. Bush's stance.
Shortly after he took office in 2001, the president told a TV
interviewer that the US would do 'whatever it takes' to protect
Taiwan. ... In an address in Prague last month, the president
praised Taiwan and South Korea for marching toward democracy. But
he said not a word about the US helping to defend Taiwan against a
China that has repeatedly said it will use force if Taiwan does not
submit peacefully. This turnabout has been several years in the
"Political leaders in Taiwan, notably President Chen Shui-bian, have
not helped their cause. Chen stirred the wrath of both Beijing and
Washington recently by announcing he would hold a referendum to
gauge domestic support for a proposal that Taiwan apply for UN
membership using the name 'Taiwan.' ... Taiwan has also lost US
support by appearing to be unwilling to defend itself. Taipei has
dithered over the purchase of a large arms package that Bush offered
in 2001 and US officers have said that Taiwan's forces, while
showing signs of improvement, have been slow to modernize. The
consequence of US failure to defend Taiwan would be profound. ...
"Acquiescing in China's takeover of Taiwan would jeopardize US naval
supremacy in the western Pacific and to give China control of the
northern entrance of the South China Sea, through which more
shipping passes than through the Suez and Panama canals combined.
To abandon a fledging democracy would undercut the ability of any
administration in Washington, whether Republican or Democratic, to
persuade other countries to undertake democratic reforms. Moreover,
there is no guarantee that China would be satisfied with conquering
Taiwan. Beijing is acquiring the capability to project power beyond
Taiwan into the rest of Asia and the Pacific. ..."
D) "Taiwan and the Next US President"
John Copper, a professor of International Studies at Rhodes College
in Memphis, Tennessee, opined in the pro-independence,
English-language "Taipei Times" [circulation: 30,000] (7/15):
"... In fact, former American Institute in Taiwan director Raymond
Burghardt has pointed out that none of the candidates has voiced an
opinion on Taiwan and probably won't. In other words, Taiwan is not
going to be an issue in the coming US elections. Not exactly true.
While the candidates have not set forth a position on the 'Taiwan
issue,' it is possible to glean something about their stances. They
have talked about Taiwan before and one can guess how each might
treat Taiwan as president. ...
"All of the candidates, Democrats and Republicans, have enunciated a
positive view of Taiwan's democracy. But this is less important
than the matter of whether the US will protect Taiwan. The point is
that Taiwan's political system doesn't matter if it is absorbed by
China. In coming months, it is difficult to conceive of Taiwan not
becoming an issue in the US president campaign. It has been in
every campaign for more than half a century. Military strategists
see the Taiwan Strait as the world's number one flashpoint. The US
and a fast rising China differ on Taiwan's future and that is an
issue worth debating."