Cablegate: Media Reaction: The U.S. And Taiwan's Un Referendum
DE RUEHIN #2140/01 2622223
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 192223Z SEP 07
FM AIT TAIPEI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6845
INFO RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 7273
RUEHHK/AMCONSUL HONG KONG 8529
UNCLAS AIT TAIPEI 002140
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: THE U.S. AND TAIWAN'S UN REFERENDUM
1. Summary: Taiwan's major Chinese-language dailies focused news
coverage September 18-19 on Typhoon Wipha, which hit Taiwan Tuesday;
on the island's UN referendum and the 62nd session of the UN General
Assembly, which is set to convene in New York today; and on an
American citizen who was arrested in Kaohsiung Monday on suspicion
of murdering a Taiwan woman. The pro-independence "Liberty Times"
ran a banner headline on page two September 19 that said "The United
States Does Not Plan to Speak [of Its Opposition to] Taiwan's UN Bid
at the UN General Assembly Session." The centrist, KMT-leaning
"China Times," however, ran a banner headline on page two on
September 19 that read "[To Fight] the UN Battle, Taiwan Plans to
File a Suit to the International Court of Justice."
2. In terms of editorials and commentaries, a "Liberty Times"
editorial called on more high-level dialogue between Taiwan and the
United States to resolve the bilateral disputes over the island's UN
referendum. An op-ed in the pro-independence, English-language
"Taipei Times" said the United States should consider Taiwan's needs
and take the Taiwan issue to the UN for discussion. A separate
"Taipei Times" op-ed said Washington opposes Taiwan's UN referendum
because it believes that it is against its national interests. A
"China Times" analysis, on the other hand, speculated on the
measures Washington will adopt to "punish" Taiwan for the UN
referendum. Two editorials in the conservative, pro-unification,
English-language "China Post" also questioned whether Washington is
at its wit's end in dealing with President Chen Shui-bian. End
A) "More High-level Dialogue Is Needed between Taiwan and the United
The pro-independence "Liberty Times" [circulation: 720,000]
"On September 11, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East
Asian and Pacific Affairs Thomas Christensen criticized Taiwan's UN
referendum at the Taiwan-U.S. Defense Industry Conference. But the
host of this conference, U.S.-Taiwan Business Council President
Rupert Hammond-Chambers, wrote an article two days later defending
Taiwan against such criticism. Christensen emphasized that the
differences between Taiwan and the United States over the UN
referendum were not out of misunderstanding or lack of
communication, but Hammond-Chambers pointed out that a major reason
[behind the bilateral differences] was because Taiwan and the United
States have failed to establish a regular high-level dialogue. ...
"Both Taiwan and the United States are democratic countries, and by
rights, the communication between Taipei and Washington should be
much easier than that between Beijing and Washington. It is a pity
that given the twisted international power politics, China and the
United States have enjoyed frequent high-level communication and
exchange of visits, whereas the high-level interaction between
Taiwan and the United States has been quite rare. Besides, whenever
there was any friction between Beijing and Washington, or when China
sought to threaten Taiwan militarily, the United States' punishment
against China was always light and insubstantial. In the face of
such undisguised double standards, wouldn't [the United States] be
afraid of creating anti-U.S. sentiment in the Taiwan society?
"The Taiwan people's UN referendum is aimed at expressing their will
and highlighting the spirit of sovereignty resting with the people
via democratic procedures. The Taiwan people's pursuit of the UN
referendum and their move to ensure the island's national
sovereignty by buying weapons to defend themselves are consistent
with the United States' founding spirit. The United States, as a
democracy, should support Taiwan's UN referendum. How can it
suppress the fundamental human rights of the Taiwan people just to
cater to totalitarian China? Christensen has appealed to the Taiwan
people in his speech. Shouldn't he then respect the democratic
choice made by the Taiwan people?
"The differences between Taiwan and the United States were brought
to the surface because of the UN referendum; both Christensen's
harsh comment and Washington's decision to postpone the sale of F-16
fighter jets to Taiwan have grieved [the United States'] close
friend but gladdened its enemy. For many years, Taiwan's moves to
maintain its national sovereignty have been, without any exception,
labeled by China as actions to 'alter the status quo unilaterally'
and to 'move toward Taiwan independence.' Now even the United
States is pointing its finger at Taiwan and overlooks the fact that
it is China that has been constantly seeking to change the status
quo unilaterally. Our question is: Does this really meet the U.S.
"The various remarks and deeds by the U.S. government in opposing
the UN referendum indicated that [Washington] did not bother to
cover up the priorities of the U.S. interests. But among all these,
there are obviously two points that do not meet the U.S. interests.
First, both Taiwan and the United States are democratic countries,
but they lack high-level communication. The fact that Taiwan's
democratic conducts have been constantly been misunderstood by the
United States is evidently unfavorable [for the U.S. efforts] to
promote democratic values. Second, in order to teach those who push
for the UN referendum a lesson, Washington sits idly and watches the
military balance across the Taiwan Strait tipped over to China by
postponing the sale of important preventive weapons to Taiwan. The
United States will have to pay a bigger price should any conflict
break out across the Taiwan Strait.
"Not only so. Will situations like the lack of high-level
communication between Taiwan and the United States, the differences
between the two over the UN referendum, and the postponed deal of
F-16 fighter jets make China more willing to maintain the status quo
across the Taiwan Strait? We believe the answer is no. If
Taiwan-U.S. relations reach a deadlock because of the UN referendum,
China will be very happy to seize this opportunity to squeeze
Taiwan's elbow room [in the international community], including via
diplomatic containment and military intimidation, and gradually take
over Taiwan. Should this happen, the democracy and prosperity
taking shape on the island will become nothing but empty talk, and
China's military hegemony will start to dominate the Asia-Pacific
region with irresistible power."
B) "US Should Consider Taiwan's Needs"
Professor Chen Hurng -yu from Tamkang University opined in the
pro-independence, English-language "Taipei Times" [circulation:
"... Christensen's points are a review of what has been US policy
for years in the triangular relationship between the US, China and
Taiwan. The US thinks that in this situation, Taiwan should not act
rashly, to avoid breaking the triangular framework that has
gradually taken shape over time. But this framework is based on the
US' strategic ideas about East Asia, and does not take Taiwan's
situation and needs into account. The shrinking of Taiwan's
international space has taken shape under this framework, and under
it, in the long term Taiwan will have no international space left.
"The US is using three methods to avert China's military threat
against Taiwan. The first is persuading China to restrain itself.
The second is selling arms to Taiwan. The third is opposing Taiwan's
'provocative behavior.' This is a passive approach, playing a game
of balance. Why doesn't the US take the Taiwan issue to the UN to
debate it? It could allow the UN to safeguard Taiwan's safety by
thoroughly clearing away China's threats to Taiwan. Christensen
said in his speech that the US government was 'trying to help
preserve and expand the Taiwan people's international space.' How
can we put this statement to the test? The US State Department
could consider, or not be opposed to, taking the Taiwan issue to the
UN for discussion. It could support Taiwan in setting up a Taiwan
liaison office in the UN. It could reconcile its conflicts with
Taiwan. Then we would know we can believe Christensen's words."
C) "US Believes Referendum Is against Its Interests"
Professor Edward Chen from Tamkang University's Graduate Institute
of American Studies opined in the pro-independence, English-language
"Taipei Times" [circulation: 30,000] (9/18):
"... But why would a referendum on UN membership hurt the interests
of the US and Taiwan, and force the US to strongly oppose it? The
first reason is, as Christensen said in his speech, that the US'
Taiwan Strait policy from 1979 has been beneficial to both Americans
and Taiwanese. ... What he didn't say was, if Taiwan provoked
China, for example, by holding a referendum on applying for UN
membership, this would not be in the US' interest, and so it might
make an exception to its policy. As to the second reason,
Christensen said there was 'absolutely no foundation to the
assertion that the US coordinates its Taiwan policy with Beijing.'
"China and the US are working together in trying to maintain the
'status quo' in the Taiwan Strait. Both want to prevent Taiwanese
independence and encourage cross-strait talks, but that is not the
same as the US coordinating its Taiwan policy with China. However,
it cannot be denied that China influences Taiwan through the US, and
Beijing is putting increasing pressure on Washington. The
underlying meaning in Christensen's words is that if Taiwan
continues to push for holding the referendum, this would harm US
interests, and the possibility of the US and China coordinating
their Taiwan policy cannot be ruled out. ... In a situation when
diplomacy doesn't cut it, a direct appeal to the Taiwanese public,
although it can't stop a referendum, could dampen enthusiasm for it,
diminish its legitimacy and cause it to fail."
D) "How Will the United States and China Respond to the New
Development Concerning the UN Referendum?"
Journalist Huang Ching-lung, currently also a visiting scholar at
the Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies at the Brookings
Institution, noted in an analysis in the centrist, KMT-leaning
"China Times" [circulation: 400,000] (9/19):
"... The reason why the UN referendum under the name Taiwan has
annoyed Washington is mainly because it has offended and collided
with the United States' ambiguous strategy, forcing Washington to
make a choice between China and Taiwan. For the United States, this
is a very difficult choice: It cannot possibly give up Taiwan's
strategic interests, but on the other hand, its complex but mutually
beneficial relationship with China is the national interests it must
pay close attention to. Therefore, officials in the State
Department, the National Security Council, and even a majority of
the Republican and Democratic congressmen as well as experts on
cross-Strait issues in major U.S. think tanks tend to believe that
the UN referendum will sabotage the cross-Strait status quo,
increase difficulty for Washington to handle the changing situation
across the Taiwan Strait, and thus seriously violate the U.S.
interests. President Chen Shui-bian and the DPP government is now
facing overwhelming pressure from the United States.
"Then, what kind of measures will the United States likely adopt to
'punish' Taiwan? Will it cancel or postpone the arms deals? Will
it let Taiwan lose several of its allies in Central America? Even
though these moves may be effective in 'waking up' [Taiwan], but
also have some side effects and thus may not meet the U.S.
interests. Washington surely hopes that the UN referendum could be
revoked, but it obviously knows that the chances are slim for that
to happen. As a result, the United States can only 'place its hope
in the Taiwan people;' it appealed directly to the Taiwan people in
the hope that 'Taiwan's perspective, intelligent citizens will see
through the rhetoric and make a sound judgment.' (Quote from
Christensen) But what if the referendum is passed? Perhaps when
that happens, Washington can only make necessary 'damage control' --
namely, it can directly negotiate with the president-elect about how
to interpret such a [referendum] result, and ask the president-elect
to make an announcement during his inauguration ceremony on May 20,
2008. It should be something that Washington expects to see if
similar pledge like the 'Four Nos and One Without' made in 2000 is
made the next year. ..."
E) "Credibility of U.S. Is Being Questioned"
The conservative, pro-unification, English-language "China Post"
[circulation: 30,000] editorialized (9/19):
"After high-ranking U.S. officials openly and solemnly stated that
Taiwan's referendum on the U.N. bid 'is Taiwan independence,' all
China watchers around the world are anxious to see what measures
Washington will take to stop President Chen Shui-bian from taking
this dangerous move to undermine regional stability in the Taiwan
Strait. Americans must act -- effectively -- if Washington
officials are responsible for what they say, and if the
long-standing U.S. policy of firmly opposing Taiwan independence
really means business. No one would believe the United States, the
strongest and most important ally of Taiwan, cannot do it if it
wants to. However, the American weakness in dealing with an
audacious President Chen as indicated by a response in the form of a
speech, entitled 'A Strong and Moderate Taiwan,' delivered by Thomas
Christensen, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian
and Pacific Affairs, on Sept. 11, should have surprised most
"It is indeed incredible to see how the United States, whose
support is essential to Taiwan's survival under Beijing's threats,
feels helpless in facing an irrational and stubborn government in
Taipei that insists on pursuing its independence course against its
own interest and that of the U.S. Several observations may be made:
First, the lack of an effective U.S. response in terms of blocking
Chen's behavior may indicate that Washington has been persuaded by
the president behind-the-scenes that his proposal for the referendum
is not yet the realization of Taiwan independence. If so, why did
high Washington officials make the unequivocal statement equating
the referendum with Taiwan independence in the first place? They
should be faulted for irresponsibility in making over-statements or
misstatements that have generated global tensions and damaged U.S.
credibility as a world leader.
"Second, if the U.S. really believes the referendum is tantamount to
Taiwan independence, it must take immediate actions to stop it, as
it will inevitably lead to war with Beijing. Americans should be
held at lest morally responsible for any military conflict in the
Taiwan Strait with disastrous consequences because it has the power
to prevent it but it does not. Third, the speech emphasized that
the long-term friendship and cooperation between the peoples of the
United States and Taiwan remain strong. In other words, the U.S.
intends to show it opposes President Chen, but not the Taiwan
people, attempting to separate the two. The U.S. will probably fail
in this effort because President Chen is universally acknowledged as
a master in terms of understanding the psychology of Taiwan voters
and hence knows how to influence them better than all his political
rivals in Taiwan, let alone Americans. He wants to closely bind
himself with 23 million people on the island. ...
"Fourth, since President Chen has less than a year in office, utmost
tolerance has been displayed by all sides, including the U.S., with
regard to the wanton behavior of the president. The general
consensus is that the president will lose much of his political
clout once he steps down. This may turn out to be wishful thinking.
Chen may be able to lead the 20-30 percent of the 'deep green'
after his presidential term expires so as to control the DPP to
control the nation. ... Still vigorous physically, ambitious
politically and artful in maneuvering tactics, Chen may stage an
unprecedented comeback in Taiwan politics four years after 2008.
"Fifth, the U.S. has treated President Chen with excessive
indulgence which may have the effect of emboldening other DPP
leaders in the future to act recklessly on the question of Taiwan
independence, believing they can do so with American acquiescence.
When one detects the kind of U.S. feebleness as conveyed by
Christensen's speech, one cannot but aggress with some critics that
Washington is indeed a 'paper tiger.' A great superpower should not
be perceived as such. Any serious miscalculation in Taipei thus
entailed may lead to disaster for which Washington should be held
accountable because of its unwillingness to do what should be done
to prevent it. A plausible explanation for the U.S. behavior may be
that Washington is so eager to have Taiwan exit within its sphere of
influence that it is willing to indulge its leaders, to the extent
that it ends up getting exactly the opposite -- destroying and
losing an important strategic partner."
F) "Is the U.S. at Wit's End?'
The conservative, pro-unification, English-language "China Post"
[circulation: 30,000] editorialized (9/18):
"It is unprecedented for Taiwan's leaders of both the ruling and
opposition parties to openly challenge a pronounced policy of the
United States, supposedly the 'mentor and protector' of the island
since the 1950s. Never before has a public policy debate in Taiwan
put the U.S. in such an awkward position, damned if it tolerates the
pro-independence referendum and damned if it opposes it. (The U.S.
is one of 163 subscribing nations to Beijing's 'one China' principle
that 'there is only one China in the world and Taiwan is part of one
China.') Having successfully tutored Taiwan on democracy and
protected the island from a communist takeover for 60 years, the
U.S. now finds itself an unwelcome intruder in Taiwan's presidential
election politics. ..."