Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A New Taiwan Representative Arrives in Washington

The Ma administration has cleared the necessary hurdles to get its new defacto ambassador in place in Washington DC. Yesterday's Taipei Times covered the arrival of Jason Yuan, who had served as the KMT/PFP representative to the U.S. since at least 2004. Most of the article covers the delay in Congressional notification of the intended sale of eight defense systems:

Taiwan’s new representative to the US, Jason Yuan (袁健生), said upon arriving in Washington on Monday that he expected the US government would eventually approve pending sales of defensive weapons to Taiwan and that he would restore mutual trust between the two sides.

Yuan received a warm welcome from 100 Taiwanese officials and expatriates upon his arrival at the airport on Monday.Barbara Schrage, managing director of the American Institute in Taiwan, was also present to welcome Yuan.Schrage said at the airport that the US and Taiwan had long had a solid relationship and that she hoped bilateral relations would become even more robust.

At the airport, Yuan said he would use his sincerity to rebuild mutual trust. As bilateral relations are solid, he said rebuilding trust should not be too difficult, but that it would take time. Questioned about Washington’s reported “freeze” on the sales of weapons to Taiwan, Yuan told reporters that US government agencies — including the Department of State, the Department of Defense and the National Security Council — had never used the term “freeze.”

Yuan said the US is a country that follows the law and that the Taiwan Relations Act is “a US law.”As a result, he said he did not believe that any US government official would violate the act and freeze arms deals with Taiwan.Yuan said he believed that after the US Congress reconvenes, the US government would notify it of its approval of the long-delayed arms package sale to Taiwan.

He said he believed Congress would not block the approval. Congress will adjourn on Sept. 26, meaning the notification — which Congress has 30 days to respond to — would have to be submitted later this month if the arms deal were to be finalized this year.

Jason, you're a good guy. But face the truth. President Bush and the State Department's hold on sending over the Congressional notifications is a freeze. A freeze is a conscious decision, made at a very senior level sometime in late Spring 2008, to halt the necessary steps for the sale of defensive articles and services to take place. The freeze could be lifted next month or it may not. Maybe a few of the eight notifications may make it through.

My advice on talking points - stick with "we expect the United States will live up its own legal obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act." If the Bush administration decides to forego the notifications even after Congress comes back into session next month, it could prove to be a bit embarassing.

And, furthermore, will U.S.-Taiwan relations improve now that the KMT is back after eight years in disloyal opposition? The arms sales freeze, and refusal to accept the letter of request for 66 F-16 C/D fighters, seems to be a good sign of what to expect. For the late Bush administration, Taiwan is Taiwan. It doesn't matter who's in charge in Taipei - one shouldn't be holding his/her breath for any breakthroughs. Things can only get better in January 2008.

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