Cablegate: Media Reaction: Taiwan Referenda On Un Bid and Us-Taiwan
DE RUEHIN #2368/01 2930629
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 200629Z OCT 07
FM AIT TAIPEI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7195
INFO RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 7375
RUEHHK/AMCONSUL HONG KONG 8655
UNCLAS AIT TAIPEI 002368
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: TAIWAN REFERENDA ON UN BID AND US-TAIWAN
1. Summary: News coverage of Taiwan's major Chinese-language
dailies October 19 centered on the dispute over the arrangements for
issuing referendum ballots during the 2008 legislative and
presidential elections; YouTube's launching a site in traditional
Chinese characters; and the returning of the body of Chen Chi-li,
former leader of Taiwan's largest triad, Bamboo Union, who was
imprisoned for killing Henry Liu, who wrote a critical biography of
the late president Chiang Ching-kuo.
2. In terms of editorials and commentaries, a news analysis in the
centrist, KMT-leaning "China Times" said US-Taiwan relations may be
worsened by arrangements for issuing referendum ballots during the
2008 presidential election. Another "China Times" commentary said
Taiwan may have to explain to the United States about its next step
after the UN bid referendums cross the 50% validation threshold.
The pro-independence, English-language "Taipei Times" in an
editorial criticized the US position toward Taiwan's UN referendums.
Meanwhile, the conservative, pro-unification, English-language
"China Post" editorialized that the DPP is only using the referendum
votes as an aid to win the presidential election. End summary.
A) "Once the Threshold Handicap Is Resolved, US-Taiwan Relations
Will Feel the Impact"
Journalist Wu Tien-jung noted in the centrist, KMT-leaning "China
Times" [circulation: 400,000] (10/19):
"Once the Central Election Committee decides that the ballots of the
presidential election and the two referenda on Taiwan's bid to the
UN will be 'cast at the same time', then the probability will
significantly increase that the referendum on 'applying for UN
membership under the name of "Taiwan"' will cross the high
validating threshold and be approved. It can be expected that
US-Taiwan relations will be further strained from now until March
"... Although the United States strongly opposes Taiwan's
referendums on its UN bid, the messages conveyed by all parties were
that the threshold for validating a referendum in Taiwan is too high
for the UN referenda to be adopted. In the future, should it find
that the validating threshold is no longer a problem for the 'UN bid
referenda,' how is the United States going to react? One can expect
that it will be more difficult to improve US-Taiwan relations until
B) "After the Referenda"
A commentary in the centrist, KMT-leaning "China Times"
[circulation: 400,000] commented (10/19):
"... If the same arrangements for simultaneously issuing and casting
ballots for the legislative elections and the referendums [on
anti-corruption and KMT party assets] are to be applied to the
presidential elections, there will still be troubles mentioned
above. There can be only one advantage: the ballots may be issued
'half-coercively' so that the turnout rates of the referendums will
cross the 50% validating threshold...
"As the Pan-Blue and the Pan-Green camps each have their own
proposed referendum, the only way to avoid the situation that the
rival camp reaches the 50% threshold while our own camp fails is to
step up to mobilize supporters. The argument being used to ease US
pressure in the first place was that the two referenda will not be
validated. If the Blue and Green voters work smartly with the
mobilization efforts, then the proposal to join the UN and the
proposal to return to the UN will both exceed 50%. Then the last
and possibly the most important issue will be: how is Taiwan going
to explain to the United States what the next step will be?"
C) "Blocked by the US at Every Turn"
The pro-independence, English-language "Taipei Times" [circulation:
30,000] editorialized (10/19):
"Taiwan watchers in the US may have been surprised by media reports
on Wednesday that the military has already begun deployment of its
newly developed Hsiung Feng II-E cruise missile and is on the verge
of starting mass production. The White House must have been aware of
this well in advance.
"Several conservative think tank academics in the US -- most notably
at the Cato Institute -- have been highly critical of Taiwan,
accusing it of over-reliance on the US and claiming it is unwilling
to defend itself.
"The US government, meanwhile, is eager to hold up Taiwan's
democracy as an example to the world, but when Taiwan asserts the US
administration's favorite buzzword by holding a referendum,
Washington changes the rules, criticizes Taipei and holds back on
previously agreed weapons sales.
"Then, when Taiwan, in its frustration over the lack of weapons
available, begins to develop means of defending itself, the US
frowns upon it and takes prompt action to block any move.
"Washington, it seems, wants to have its cake and eat it too.
"The document that dictates US policy on Taiwan -- the Taiwan
Relations Act (TRA) -- states that the US is only allowed to sell
Taiwan weapons 'of a defensive character.' Nowhere does it give the
White House the right to dictate what the Taiwanese military can or
"Of course, the TRA also stresses the need to 'help maintain peace,
security and stability in the Western Pacific,' but calling the
Taiwanese government's UN referendum campaign a threat to regional
stability -- as influential US officials have done -- is grossly
"... The US' decades-long policy of strategic ambiguity over the
Taiwan issue means no one -- including the Taiwanese government and
the US itself -- knows whether Washington would send US troops to
help defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.
"Meanwhile, the Bush administration's 'war on terror' and the
unlimited nature of such a conflict means the US military is already
stretched to its limits and will remain so for the foreseeable
future. While its forces remain bogged down in the Middle East,
there would be little domestic appetite for US troops to get
involved in another war far from its shores.
"This means that if the White House continues to hold back on
weapons sales, then Taiwan must forge ahead and develop and build
its own -- even at the risk of upsetting its best friend.
"But even the mass production of these domestic missiles is now in
jeopardy, as Washington has begun to put the squeeze on the export
of key engine components, while the pan-blue camp has slashed the
budget for production.
"Washington has said many times in the past that it wants Taiwan to
be in a strong position militarily to enable it to negotiate a
peaceful settlement to the cross-strait issue with China on an equal
"The US' recent actions, juxtaposed with the relentless pace of
China's military build-up, have shown those assertions to be nothing
more than lip service."
D) "Referendums Mustn't Be Used to Achieve Selfish Objectives"
The conservative, pro-unification, English-language "China Post"
[circulation: 30,000] editorialized (10/19):
"... The electoral win [in the 2004 presidential election] has led
the DPP to believe holding a referendum is one of the most effective
strategies to win voter support. To make this strategy even more
effective, the DPP has proposed that during next year's presidential
election, voters be issued two ballots at the same time -- one for
the election and the other for the referendum. Apparently the party
thinks this procedure will increase the percentage of voters who
cast the referendum ballot. This plan is further evidence that the
DPP is using the referendum as an aid to win the presidential battle
and that its U.N.-membership-for Taiwan campaign is a political
trick intended to sway voters. Referenda are designed to allow the
people to vote directly on disputable issues. Advocates of the
referendum argue that certain decisions are best determined directly
by the people and claim that such direct votes are a mark of
democracy. The fact is, the referendum has been used by dictators
such as Hitler and Mussolini, who used the practice to implement
oppressive policies under the guise of populism. If referendums are
a good way for the public to express their opinions on public
issues, why should elections of people's representatives such as
city councilors and legislators, be held? Voters in a referendum
may be insufficiently informed about the questions they are asked,
especially if the questions concern complicated issues. In Taiwan,
most of the people living in the urban areas of the north are highly
educated, and therefore able to deliberate carefully and
independently on political matters. But residents of the south are
much likely swayed by propaganda or large-scale advertising
campaigns. And the DPP is currently carrying out an expensive
propaganda effort to promote the idea that the island should seek
U.N. membership under the name of Taiwan. As some opposition
legislators have pointed out, the advertising campaign is being
pushed at the taxpayers' expense. Sadly, this party, with the word
'democratic' in its name, is dong something very undemocratic."