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Cablegate: Media Reaction: U.S.-Taiwan Relations

VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHIN #1954/01 2391008
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 271008Z AUG 07
FM AIT TAIPEI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6535
INFO RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 7169
RUEHHK/AMCONSUL HONG KONG 8424

UNCLAS AIT TAIPEI 001954

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR INR/R/MR, EAP/TC, EAP/PA, EAP/PD - NIDA EMMONS
DEPARTMENT PASS AIT/WASHINGTON

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: OPRC KMDR KPAO TW
SUBJECT: MEDIA REACTION: U.S.-TAIWAN RELATIONS

1. Summary: Taiwan's major Chinese-language dailies focused news
coverage August 25-27 on President Chen Shui-bian's trip to Central
America; on the 2008 presidential election; on the investigation
into the explosion of a China Airlines passenger jet in Okinawa last
Monday; and on the future prospects of Taiwan's travel business.
The centrist, KMT-leaning "China Times" ran a banner headline on
page four August 26 that read "The United States Has Reportedly
Instigated [Taiwan's Allies] to Oppose [Taiwan's] UN Bid; Bian Is in
Central America to Secure [Allies'] Support."

2. In terms of editorials and commentaries, an editorial in the
pro-independence "Liberty Times" said the fundamental reason behind
the fact that Washington offered a dissatisfactory arrangement for
President Chen Shui-bian's transit this time is because Taiwan has
yet to become a normal country. The article thus urged Taiwan to
become a new country via holding referenda, the name-change campaign
and writing of a new constitution, so that it can enter the
international community under the name "Taiwan" in a majestic
manner. A "China Times" editorial, however, criticized President
Chen for overspending Taiwan's diplomatic resources by taking
advantage of the United States' goodwill towards Taiwan. An
editorial in the pro-independence, English-language "Taipei Times"
lamented that Chen has missed his chance to speak up his protest --
namely, Chen should have held an outdoor press conference rather
than remaining in his plane when transiting Alaska. A separate
"Taipei Times" op-ed called for high-level U.S.-Taiwan dialogue to
clear up all miscommunications and misperceptions between the two
sides. An editorial in the conservative, pro-unification,
English-language "China Post" said the "right reaction to President
Chen's referendum plan is to ignore it" as it will come to nothing
in the end. End summary.

A) "Only With [Holding] Referenda, Name Change, and Writing a New
Constitution Can [Taiwan] Enter the International Organization in a
Majestic Manner"

The pro-independence "Liberty Times" [circulation: 720,000]
editorialized (8/25):

"President Chen Shui-bian set out for a visit to Taiwan's allies in
Central and South America. While transiting Alaska for refueling,
Chen remained in his plane and told the U.S. representative who
received him that the transit arrangement this time was
inconvenient, uncomfortable and undignified. Chen protested [the
U.S. treatment] by not wearing his jacket and tie but a 'UN for
Taiwan: Peace for All' sticker on his shirt. Such a dissatisfactory
transit arrangement was obviously a consequence of [Chen's] push for
the 'UN referendum,' and its fundamental reason was because Taiwan
has yet to become a normal country. As a result, high-level
interactions between Taiwan and the United States cannot proceed as
normal diplomatic practices and thus must be dealt with on a
case-by-case basis, which would constantly be affected by chance
occurrences. All these are unfair for Taiwan.

"During a recent interview with the BBC, however, Chen pointed out
that Taiwan is already an independent country, and there is thus no
need [for it] to make a further declaration. Even so, judging from
the treatment Chen received when transiting Alaska, at least the
United States does not acknowledge that Taiwan is already an
independent country. Based on the 'Taiwan Relations Act,' the
United States 'regards' Taiwan as a country simply for the sake of
expedience. ...

"The issue concerning Taiwan's declaration of independence, as
mentioned by the BBC host, happens to have pointed to the matter
that China and the international community care about most --
namely, the matter of 'Taiwan' becoming 'the country of Taiwan.'
Taiwan will become a new country if we discard the system of the
Republic of China via holding referenda, the name-change campaign
and the writing of a new constitution. Should that happen,
regardless of whether other countries recognize Taiwan immediately,
one instant effect will be that Beijing's one-China principle will
no longer be able to fetter Taiwan. This is because the springboard
of Beijing using its one-China principle to declare that Taiwan is
part of China, namely, the ROC, has totally vanished. ..."

B) "[Chen's] Visit this Time Has Expedited [the Process of]
Overspending [Taiwan's] Diplomatic Resources"

The centrist, KMT-leaning "China Times" [circulation: 400,000]
(8/27):

"... [President Chen's] visit to El Salvador, Honduras, and
Nicaragua this time is no longer for enjoying gun-salute and
red-carpet [treatment] but for an urgent need to cement Taiwan's
foreign relations. From the very beginning, Chen's trip this time
was shrouded by two sorts of shadow: First, Chen's insistence on
pushing for a referendum on Taiwan's UN bid has done severe damage
to Taiwan-U.S. relations and triggered the U.S.'s retaliation;

second, Costa Rica switched recognition to Beijing, and [Taiwan's]
diplomatic tectonic plate in Central America is being eroded. The
two kinds of shadow have both created unprecedented serious crises
for Taiwan. But a close look at Chen's behavior indicated that he
evidently shows no interest in mending Taiwan-U.S. relations, and
for the island's allies in Central America, Chen simply wrote checks
to secure their relations for the time being. ...

"Many times in the past, Chen had taken advantage of the United
States' goodwill toward Taiwan and used his transits of America to
build up his own momentum. Now Chen has offended the United States
which, in return, decided to 'attack Chen by exploiting his
weakness' and to punish him by downgrading the treatment for his
transits. ... Chen himself claimed that he is 'enduring humiliation
just to perform his duty,' but in reality, he is asking for
humiliation himself; he was even trying to play the underdog to win
sympathy, creating an image of him suffering humiliation for the
entire island. Indeed, Taiwan-U.S. relations are no longer an issue
that Chen finds it necessary to ponder. ...

C) "Chen Misses His Chance to Bat"

The pro-independence, English-language "Taipei Times" [circulation:
30,000] editorialized (8/25):

"President Chen Shui-bian's decision to stay on his aircraft during
his stopover in Alaska in protest at his treatment by the US
government is not without precedent. Former president Lee Teng-hui
did the same in the mid-1990s to voice his objection to the limited
itinerary that had been offered to him during a tour of the nation's
allies in the region. Unfortunately, Chen's 'no feet on US soil'
boycott did not have the impact he would have liked, and certainly
was not as theatrical as Lee's effort. When the US State Department
has the cards stacked against you, sometimes there can be more
effective ways to milk a media event than sitting in a plane and
sulking.

"Holding an outdoor press conference testing the limits of
restrictions on Chen's speech would have been preferable -- and
would have had the added advantage of a potentially spectacular icy
mountain backdrop to remind viewers of just how much Chen and Taiwan
have been left out in the cold, both diplomatically and
strategically. This would have been especially significant
considering that Taiwan's enemies in the US government -- not to
mention across the Taiwan Strait -- would have been delighted to see
Chen stay cooped up in first class rather than walking freely into
The Last Frontier. ..."

D) "High-level US-Taiwan Dialogue Is Necessary"

Liu Kuan-teh, a Taipei-based political commentator, opined in the
pro-independence, English-language "Taipei Times" [circulation:
30,000] (8/27):

"As expected, the administration of US President George W. Bush took
the opportunity to punish President Chen Shui-bian during his
transit in the US en route to the nation's diplomatic allies in
Central America. The reason for this, without any doubt, lies in
Chen's insistence on pushing for a referendum on using the name
"Taiwan" to apply for membership in the UN. ... Despite stressing
its respect for Taiwan's democracy and people, there is a clear
tendency from the Bush administration to separate them from Chen and
his own political agenda. If this is the case, more punishment can
be expected if Taipei and Washington fail to come up with a way to
talk.

"Punishing Chen while not defying the US' commitment to Taiwanese
democracy constitutes the main element of such a strategy. The US
seems to be looking forward to dealing with the next Taiwanese
president -- hopefully someone the US perceives as rational and
cooperative. In his conversation with Brown, Chen suggested Bush
send a special envoy from either the State Department or the
Department of Defense to engage in face-to-face dialogue with him in
Taipei. Such a scenario implies that the current channels of the
AIT and Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Washington do not
function well. It also suggests that the US bureaucracy that
handles affairs with Taiwan might be providing insufficient or
prejudiced opinions on the real situation in Taiwan. ...

"There is no doubt that most people in Washington think Chen is a
'trouble-maker.' They see Chen's push for Taiwanese independence --
through holding a referendum, introducing a new constitution and
listing the so-called 'four wants and one without' -- as needless
provocation of China. The US does not want to be dragged into
cross-strait conflicts. From the US viewpoint, Chen seems to be
taking the country's assistance for granted. Washington increasingly
sees Chen as an irresponsible politician who cares only about
elections and fails to appreciate the difficulty of the US position.


"The key miscommunications and misperceptions come largely from the
timing and judgment of the rhetoric even if the underlying policies
being adopted by the Chen administration are in line with its course
toward democratic consolidation. Therefore, what's important now is
to seek an opportunity for direct and high-level dialogue between
Taipei and Washington. There is still room for both sides to
straighten things out or to come up with a mutually acceptable
solution. Political punishment on transit treatment is not helpful
for future talks."

E) "Why Worry about U.N. Plan?"

The conservative, pro-unification, English-language "China Post"
[circulation: 30,000] editorialized (8/27):

"... Of course, President Chen knows that full well. He doesn't
care whether Taiwan can join the United Nations. He cares about how
his move can be translated into votes for candidates of his party in
the January and March elections and, in particular, his party's
victory's in the presidential race on which hinges his fate after
next May 20. ... Beijing has a Taiwan phobia. Every action
President Chen takes is interpreted as a move towards Taiwan
independence or separatism. We must remind Chinese leaders that
whatever he may do will come to naught anyway. So long as China has
the veto power, Taiwan has no chance whatsoever to join the United
Nations. The referendum? The Chinese should deem it a farce. They
should sit back to enjoy it, knowing that all the time it would end
to their amused satisfaction. ...

"Washington, on the other hand, has reason to be angry, because
President Chen has taken back his word. President George W. Bush
shouldn't be too angry, though, for it's not the first time Chen has
reneged. Remember how Chen maneuvered to have the National
Unification Council 'cease to function' only early last year? Chen
promised Bush not to scrap the said council, which was rendered
defunct. And Bush can do little to whip Chen into line, now that
the latter has less than ten months of his second and last term
left. ... The right reaction to President Chen's referendum plan is
to ignore it. Clear-thinking men and women in Taiwan regard it as a
stupid referendum. It's an insult to their Homo sapiens
intelligence to be asked to voice yes or no on the question of
Taiwan's U.N. bid. Internationally, what Chen is doing should be
interpreted as a petty megalomaniac at his wits' end taking his last
sleepwalk."

YOUNG

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