Friday, September 7, 2007

President Chen at AEI, Presidents Bush and Hu at APEC

Initially, reports coming out of the bilataral meeting between American and Chinese Presidents George Bush and Hu Jintao suggested that the two leaders had sidestepped the issue of Taiwan while speaking on the sidelines of the APEC meeting in Sydney. Major topics of discussion were initially reported as Chinese product safety (graciously brought up by President Hu without any prodding from the U.S. side), artificially low valuation of the yuan, North Korea and -- 'oh yes, Mr. President, would you be so kind as to attend the Beijing Olympics next summer?' (Bush is reportedly planning to leave international politics in the States and attend the Games as a sports fan).

Yet a second wave of news coverage published this morning brought to light for us two new aspects of the Bush-Hu bilateral talks: an agreement to establish what sounds like a Cold War-style military hotline between Washington and Beijing and President Hu voicing his concern over Taiwan.

The hotline strikes us as good news, instantaneous and direct dialogue is the best way to prevent misunderstanding during times of heightened tensions between global powers (unfortunately, Beijing has a past record of mysteriously not answering Washington's phone calls when Sino-U.S. tensions are high -- just because Mr. Bush no longer has to "dial" when he reaches for the reciever doesn't mean that Beijing is going to pick up).

Not so good news from yesterday's meeting comes in the form of President Hu's ominous remarks on Taiwan, reported this morning in the Washington Times:

"This year and next year are a period of high danger for the Taiwan situation," Mr. Hu told Mr. Bush in bilateral talks, according to a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman.

"We must give stronger warnings to the Taiwan authorities," Liu Jianchao quoted the Chinese President as saying. "We cannot allow anyone to use any means to split Taiwan from the motherland."
We ask readers to take into account two aspects of President Hu's language:

1) Hu speaks of the "period of high danger" as though he is a weatherman reporting a high frequency of thundershowers over the weekend -- it can't be helped, that's just the way it is! In other words, President Bush, feel free to forget that China is the physical source of all this heightened danger.

2) We may be going out on a limb here, but refering to your country as the "Motherland" while speaking with the President of the United States (often referred to as the 'Leader of the Free World') -- probably not the best idea. Such lingo tends to reboot your average American brain and fill it with memories of our former adversary, the Soviet Union, bringing to mind stereotypical McCarthy-era images of vodka-swilling generals behind the Iron Curtain extolling the virtues and immortal greatness of 'Mother Russia' while grinding the liberties of the Common Man into the dirt with their patent leather boots.

In condensed form: refering to your country as the Motherland; Fatherland; Parental Gaurdianland . . . not the best way to ingratiate yourself with any American leader.

Meanwhile, back on the ranch (ie: back in the virtual ether, where the image and words of President Chen were being beamed via satellite into the top-story conference room at the American Enterprise Institute, which held an event on Taiwan's bid for UN membership yesterday), President Chen was refusing to give any ground on UN membership or the referendum, laying out clearly and concisely at the well-publicized event Taiwan's rational for persisting in the pursuit of both of these. Fairly well-timed, the AEI event seems to have stirred up a new round of public discourse over cross-Strait relations during a period when coverage of the issue seemed to be flagging.

For video of the conference, you can visit this page on AEI's website. Click the video link on the right of the page.

We poked around for some web video coverage of the APEC bilateral meeting (found plenty on the security-flaunting stunt put on by the cast of Chasers yesterday) but were unable to come up with anything so far. We'll take another shot at it soon.

Chris Nelson attended the AEI conference yesterday and, as perhaps Washington's top non-governmental Asia-Pacific insider, was hounded by reporters after the session. Nelson tips his hat in yesterday's Nelson Report to many of the hard-to-argue-with-both-legally-and-morally points made by Chen at the conference, but (Congressman Rohrabacher's effusive support nothwithstanding) seems to think things are going to get rougher between Taipei and Washington before they get better:

Taiwan's president Chen delivered an emotional but legalistic explanation and defense of why he will continue to pursue a national referendum on whether to pursue UN membership under the name "Taiwan", despite firm US opposition.

Chen seems to calculate that if there is a large enough public vote for the referendum next March, as planned, then a ground swell of pressure will be created on the Bush Administration to, at a minimum, stop criticizing Chen's various efforts to redefine Taiwan's international space.

No serious observer of US-Taiwan and US-China relations thinks such a plan has any chance of success, regardless of the vote, so a continued rise in tensions between
Washington and Taipei seems inevitable...with clear risks for all involved.

. . .

We'll discuss all this below, but will briefly note that it looks to us as though the US, China, and Taiwan are now locked into very different definitions of the "status quo" which increasingly conflict, and which by their very structure make maintaining the peaceful status quo increasingly difficult.

. . .

We thought there were many aspects of President Chen's presentation this morning which, from a strictly legal or strictly moral, or even strictly logical point of view, you couldn't argue much.

Who in this country is opposed to the legitimate exercise of democracy? Who doesn't
wish more democracy, more respect for the rule of law in China?

But we thought that the potentially most revealing thing Chen said and did...something which the AEI panel gamely tried to pass off with mild jokes about alternative song titles...was to actually recite word for word as his "credo" in this
matter, the lyrics from "Man of LaMancha" in which the doomed hero, Don Quixote,
says he is prepared to end up in Hell, so long as he fights the good fight and
dies with a clean conscience.

So that's about all we have for you at the moment. Yesterday was a big day in cross-strait relations and for Taiwan's UN bid -- surely there will be more news on the subject to come.

On a side note: Rest in peace, Luciano Pavarotti -- you touched the world with your voice and persona, and you really knew how to bring an audience to its knees. Nessun dorma 4 Life!

"I think a life in music is a life beautifully spent, and this is what I have devoted my life to." -LP

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