Taiwan: George Bush meet Abba Eban
Ma Ying-jeou, Taiwan’s new leader, is committed to lowering tensions with Beijing, a long-standing US objective. But his success requires strong domestic consensus, which, in turn, depends on open American support. Inviting Ma to Washington before his inauguration would signify such critical backing. Instead, President Bush seems determined to miss this unique opportunity to promote US interests.
By Alan D. Romberg - On March 22, KMT presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou won an overwhelming victory. Ma has consistently backed a policy of lowering tensions with
Ma’s first priority will be to restore economic dynamism. But even that will depend importantly on deepening cross-Strait ties, including more frequent charter flights and eventually regularly scheduled flights and robust tourism from the Mainland.
But Ma’s vision goes further, to creating a cross-Strait peace accord that could last for a very long time until more permanent arrangements are possible. PRC President Hu Jintao also supports such an accord. Negotiating it will not be easy, but at least there is political backing at the very top of both governments for trying. However, Ma will need popular backing within
Despite questions recently raised about
That said, in light of the deep mutual mistrust between Washington and Taipei in recent years, and even some American unhappiness with Ma for seeming not to follow through on commitments made during his 2006 US visit, active steps are needed to forge a closer relationship and demonstrate American support.
The Bush Administration, however, seems to have fallen into the realm of former Israeli foreign minister Abba Eban’s quip that the Arabs “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity” with Israel. That is, Mr. Bush appears determined not to miss the opportunity to miss the opportunity of a Ma pre-inauguration visit. The decision was apparently made hastily and without serious reflection, perhaps based partly on assumptions about PRC objections and partly on pique that yet another
If so, this badly misses the difference between inviting a sitting
One assumes Ma can get beyond his disappointment, but that will not make up for the U.S. having squandered an opportunity to establish a relationship of trust with him—and to convey that to the Taiwan public—that would manifestly serve US interests.
It is highly unlikely this decision will be reversed. But in light of the Hu-Siew meeting it should be, and it would serve