Cablegate: Media Reaction: U.S. Beef Imports, U.S.-China-Taiwan
DE RUEHIN #0040/01 0110959
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 110959Z JAN 10
FM AIT TAIPEI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3096
INFO RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 9616
RUEHHK/AMCONSUL HONG KONG 1000
UNCLAS AIT TAIPEI 000040
DEPARTMENT FOR INR/R/MR, EAP/TC, EAP/P, EAP/PD - THOMAS HAMM
DEPARTMENT PASS AIT/WASHINGTON
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: OPRC KMDR KPAO TW
SUBJECT: MEDIA REACTION: U.S. BEEF IMPORTS, U.S.-CHINA-TAIWAN
1. Summary: Taiwan's major Chinese-language dailies focused news
coverage January 9-11 on the legislative by-elections on Saturday,
in which the ruling KMT suffered a major setback; on the fallout
following the Legislative Yuan's decision to amend the Act Governing
Food Sanitation last week, which bans the import of six types of
"risky" U.S. beef products; and on cross-Strait relations.
2. Several editorial and opinion pieces continued to discuss the
U.S. beef controversy and its connection to U.S.-Taiwan relations.
An editorial in the KMT-leaning "China Times" urged the Taiwan
government not to make policy decisions with its door closed. A
separate "China Times" op-ed, however, said that when compared with
the demonstrations held in South Korea two year ago, Taiwan's way of
handling the U.S. beef controversy is no worse than Seoul's. Two
editorials in the conservative, pro-unification, English-language
"China Post" said that, given the Legislative Yuan's amendments to
the law concerning U.S. beef imports, the damage to U.S. relations
is done and it will certainly have a severe impact on Taiwan's
relations with the United States. An editorial in the
pro-independence, English-language "Taipei Times," however,
criticized the proposed referendum initiated by the Consumers'
Foundation. In terms of U.S.-China Taiwan relations, a column in
the pro-unification "United Daily News" said a clear cross-Strait
policy and reliable rules of the game are an important foundation
for building Taiwan-U.S. relations. End summary.
3. U.S. Beef Imports
A) "[The Government] Can No Longer Make Policies with Its Door
The KMT-leaning "China Times" [circulation: 120,000] editorialized
"... All sort of evidence showed that it was the National Security
Council (NSC) which has steered the talks over U.S. beef [imports].
Perhaps the assessment made by the NSC was to draw a figure of the
triangular relationship between Washington, Beijing and Taipei;
determine whether Taipei should make concessions and gauge the size
of its concessions and their impact on this triangular relationship;
and make predictions on Beijing's possible reaction, the progress of
the [talks under the U.S.-Taiwan] Trade and Investment Framework
Agreement, the impact on the Economic Cooperation Framework
Agreement [Taiwan is to sign with China], and the precedent of South
Korea. Consequently, it deliberated on the importance and urgency
[of all the afore-mentioned factors] and determined that Taiwan
should sign [the beef deal with the United States]. Given this
seemingly well-thought-out [plan], ... the NSC had never anticipated
that there would be an intervention or disturbances from other
"On the U.S. beef issue, there were truly many miscalculations on
the part of the NSC staff. But if we get to the bottom of it, it
was simply because [the NSC] has overlooked the possible reactions
of other people in the political maneuverings, including the
backlash from the legislators who felt they did not receive proper
respect; pressure from the elected officials who are going to
participate in future local elections; exploding doubts among the
public; manipulations by the opposition forces; and hassles stirred
up on the battlefield of the city and county magistrates' elections.
If one regards politics as interactive gambling, it is not too
difficult to foresee these possible reactions, and the NSC should
have had its contingency plans ready about how to deal with them.
But what really happened was not like that. ..."
B) "Taiwan Is No Worse Than South Korea"
Lee Hsiu-chin, an associate professor in Pingtung City, opined in
the KMT-leaning "China Times" [circulation: 120,000] (1/11):
"... The Taiwan Legislative Yuan's amendments to the law to ban [the
import of certain U.S. beef products] have reflected the opinion of
a majority of the Taiwan people after all -- namely, they have
doubts about the safety of U.S. ground beef and beef offal. Perhaps
the Taiwan government had failed in communicating with its people
beforehand, but the U.S. government also failed in its publicity.
Despite the question whether [the public's] doubts are based on
science, emotions or other factors, can an elected president not
respect the common feelings of the majority of his people?...
"Finally, the social costs behind the demonstrations launched by
hundreds of thousands of South Korean people in protest against the
import of U.S. beef were much higher than those of Taiwan. The
Taiwan government, in the wake of following its public opinion, will
seek to mend fences with the United States. It has not only dodged
large-scale conflicts between the government and the public, but the
substantive damage that the United States will suffer has also been
managed under approximately two percent of its ground beef and beef
offal -- which should be a better option since it will not affect
the import of the 98 percent of bone-in beef. The American media's
opposition to the amendments by Taiwan's legislature is
understandable. But for Taiwan, the way we handle [the U.S. beef
imports] for now is no worse than that of South Korea."
C) "Damage to U.S. Relations Is Done"
The conservative, pro-unification, English-language "China Post"
[circulation: 30,000] editorialized (1/10):
"Last week, the Legislative Yuan passed amendments to the Food
Sanitation Act banning the import of ground beef, cow offal and
internal organs from countries where there have been cases of bovine
spongiform encephalopathy or 'mad cow disease' as it is more
commonly known. The legislation was deliberately designed to block
beef imports from the United States, and the move blatantly
overturned a beef trade protocol already signed last October by
Taipei and Washington. Now that the legislation has passed, the
government has been forced to slam Taiwan's door shut to many types
of U.S. beef imports. ...
"The top U.S. official responsible for East Asia relations, U.S.
Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, told reporters in
Washington that the beef controversy would not affect the overall
bilateral relationship. Campbell, a veteran diplomat with extensive
experience in the Asian region, said Washington was communicating
with 'friends' in Taiwan to try and work out a 'mutually acceptable
solution.' Campbell's words were kind and probably reflect the fact
that he really has many friends in Taiwan, having traveled here many
times in his career. However, it is hard to believe that the
relationship between Taipei and Washington really will not be
affected by our unilateral ban. After the impact of the hostile
move sets in, the United States will retaliate by halting various
forms of cooperation urgently needed to improve our economy.
"The retaliation has actually already started. Vice Economic Affairs
Minister Francis Liang, who also heads the ministry's Office of
Trade Negotiations, has confirmed that bilateral talks on the
proposed Taiwan-U.S. Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA)
were 'indefinitely' suspended by Washington. ... In the meantime,
dialogue with the U.S. on a proposed bilateral investment agreement
and agreement on technical barriers to trade has also been called
off by Washington. ... Aside from putting these pacts on the back
burner, Washington will probably also enact countervailing measures
against imports from Taiwan in direct retaliation for the beef ban,
which it can do under the rules of the World Trade Organization.
"While our government can file a complaint against the
countervailing measures, it is most likely that our case would be
lost. Taiwan's economy is highly dependent upon exports to the
United States, and Taipei relies on its friendship with Washington
to maintain Taiwan's security. Over the weekend, ruling Kuomintang
legislator Lin Yu-fang informed a group of visiting U.S.
congressional staffers that the ban only affected something like 2
percent of American beef imports. But the reality is that the
barrage of negative publicity that has surrounded the beef
controversy has severely harmed sales of all kinds of U.S. beef in
Taiwan. It will probably be years before consumers here will be
able to shed the negative image of U.S. beef, which various groups
and politicians of all stripes have claimed to be dangerous and even
'poison.' Retail stores and supermarkets around the island have
either cordoned off U.S. beef to small, specially marked sections or
stopped selling U.S. beef products altogether. ...
"There has been a great deal of America-bashing, with the usual
self-anointed experts and opinion leaders taking turns going on
television to slam Washington and rave on about how Taiwanese will
all drop dead the moment they sink their teeth into an American
steak. Now that the politicians have already soured the atmosphere
of bilateral ties, we can only wait to see what moves the U.S. will
undertake against us and hope they will not be too severe."
D) "Losers Lose Big in the Bee 'War' with the U.S."
The conservative, pro-unification, English-language "China Post"
[circulation: 30,000] editorialized (1/9):
"... Let's recount the great losses Taiwan is suffering. We've
already cited the disaster of the 'violation' of the beef import
protocol triggered on October 22 last year. Taiwan has lost its
credibility as a responsible trading partner as well as a good
member of the world community and Washington has shut the door for
negotiations on a trade and investment agreement (TIFA) with Taipei.
A larger disaster is in the waiting. The Kuomintang administration
has to undertake an almost impossible mission to mend fences with a
rightfully irate Uncle Sam.
"Philip Crowley, U.S. assistant secretary of state for public
affairs, said right after the Legislative Yuan adopted an amendment
to the Food Sanitation Act to ban American ground beef, offal and
other beef parts such as the skull, eyes and intestines that
Washington remains committed 'to further developing our
broad-ranging and positive relationship with the people of Taiwan.'
The United States, he announced, 'will continue to make available to
Taiwan defense articles and services needed for Taiwan's
self-defense.' That's diplomatic language, and the United States
certainly will defer arms sales to Taiwan to make the People's
Republic less unhappy. Washington will not support Taipei for
participation in U.N. organizations where no statehood is required
for membership as strongly as it has over the past years. Of course,
the United States will continue to offer lip service.
"But President Ma Ying-jeou is the biggest loser. This setback is
bitter, right after his bungling of relief efforts in the aftermath
of Typhoon Morakot and amidst a chorus of opposition to the
conclusion of an economic cooperation framework agreement with China
as well as to the nationwide vaccination campaign against swine flu.
And he has only himself to blame. ... One consequence of Ma's
colossal blunders is the certain loss of seven legislative
by-elections, three of them taking place tomorrow. That is likely to
lead to another more serious loss in the mayoral elections in the
five special municipalities at the end of this year unless
unemployment tumbles down. Should the Kuomintang lose three of the
five special municipal posts, Ma would have little chance of bearing
the party's standard again in the 2012 presidential election."
E) "A Foundation for Pitiful Debate"
The pro-independence, English-language "Taipei Times" [circulation:
30,000] editorialized (1/9):
"The facade of an aggressive, take-no-prisoners consumer advocacy
group that the Consumers' Foundation has carefully built over the
years is surely close to collapse after the latest developments this
week on the US beef controversy. ... Let's sidestep the coherence
of a referendum question that has no constitutional value, no
evidence to support its attacks on US beef products and involves a
subject that is rightly the responsibility of the executive and, if
necessary, the legislature. Instead, it is worth noting the
credibility of an organization that would proceed with such a poll
given that the government has already backtracked, that the
legislature has already legislated on the matter and that,
inevitably, the government will restart negotiations with the US at
some point. In short, it has none. ...
"From any balanced assessment of food safety and consumer rights,
the legislative lynching of US beef imports and the foundation's
quixotic campaign to render US beef public enemy No. 1 through a
plebiscite have nothing to do with protecting consumers from
dangerous imports and everything to do with political strategy and
furthering the career prospects of foundation officials. ... In the
end, only the American Institute in Taiwan's press release spoke the
truth on this matter with the force and exposure that it deserved,
and that is this: Science lost. In other words, referendum or no
referendum, the mischievous won."
4. U.S.-China-Taiwan Relations
"Rules of Game between Taiwan and the United States"
The "Black and White" column in the pro-unification "United Daily
News" [circulation: 400,000] wrote (1/9):
"In the process of adjustment and transformation of cross-Strait
relations, how to maintain Taiwan-U.S. relations has become a new
topic. Given the ever-changing world situation, Beijing's policy
toward Taiwan has been 'abandoning the use of force and focusing on
economics,' and as a result, the United States will no longer use
its military force to maintain Taiwan. What the United States can
do in terms of cross-Strait relations is to support Taiwan's
democracy and strongly urge Beijing to carry out its commitment to
peace. For Taiwan, it is unlikely Washington will undertake the
commitments it is unable to assume; for the United States, nor can
Taiwan request that Washington assume the tasks it can no longer
"If [Taiwan] wants the United States to play a role that it is
willing and able to assume in terms of cross-Strait relations, both
the ruling and opposition parties in Taiwan must first be able to
accomplish the following two things: First, they should have a
clearer and more stable cross-Strait policy. ... Second, they must
have reliable rules of the game. The U.S. beef protocol was
abrogated in the end by the amendments made by the Legislative Yuan.
No matter whether it was a result of a rash administrative decision
or the emotional and irrational move by the Legislative Yuan, it
indicated that this government (executive and legislative branches
alike) has lost its minimal governance credibility. How can the
United States trust such a rival that turns the table the minute it
says it will do so? ... A clear cross-Strait policy and reliable
rules of the game are a major foundation to build new Taiwan-U.S.