- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 25, 2001

The Bush administration is showing some of the same signs of schizophrenia its predecessors displayed in dealing with communist China.

In April, President Bush ended the policy of "strategic ambiguity" that kept unclear what the U.S. would do if Beijing takes military action against Taiwan, by saying the U.S. will do whatever it takes to defend the island.

Then he approved the most significant arms package for Taiwan in nearly a decade.

That was followed by allowing Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian to stop in New York and Texas while on a foreign trip to meet with local officials and members of Congress. This was a major change from the Clinton administration, which tried to keep President Chen away from public officials and the press during a stopover last year.

Now, despite those positive steps, the administration has reverted to the old approach, siding with Beijing on a request by President Chen to attend the summit meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Shanghai in October. APEC is an inclusive organization of 21 economies, not countries, whose members meet frequently to foster economic cooperation. China, Hong Kong and Taiwan became members in 1991 as separate economies.

This year, China will host APEC's annual senior-level meeting for the first time, including a get-together of the leaders of the participating economies. As the freely elected president of Taiwan, President Chen said he hopes to attend the APEC summit and meet with China's President Jiang Zemin to exchange views on direct trade and transportation links. Such a meeting presents an excellent opportunity for the leaders of the two sides of the Taiwan Strait to discuss ways to strengthen economic ties. But Beijing flatly rejected the idea.

Taiwan businessmen have invested billions of dollars in factories and businesses on the mainland, cross-strait trade is estimated at some $32 billion a year, and Taiwan is beginning to open its market to imports from the mainland.

The expected entry of both China and Taiwan into the World Trade Organization will result in lower trade barriers that should accelerate the growth of economic activity between the two. It is just common sense to discuss the opportunity for more trade and development at the highest level.

Even more important is to get the two leaders together in the interest of peace. While the APEC summit will be dealing with economic issues, a chance for the leaders of China and Taiwan to meet face-to-face presents an unusual opportunity to improve cross-strait understanding. President Bush apparently found new understanding in his first meeting with Russia's President Putin, and despite well-justified concern about North Korean duplicity, the administration supports the efforts of South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung to engage the leader of the North in dialogue. Why should China and Taiwan be different?

June 5, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick told reporters that President Chen's participation at the APEC summit would be a "constructive step." He was promptly slapped down by State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, who said Taiwan should be represented at a senior economic level as it has in the past. In other words, let's do things the way we did during the Clinton administration.

But in congressional testimony six days later, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs James Kelly said, "The first priority for the PRC and Taiwan ought to be the resumption of direct dialogue," adding that "we would like to see … real accomplishments in cross-strait dialogue.

The State Department is saying one thing, but doing another. The episode smacks of Clinton-style appeasement of China. It makes President Bush appear so eager to go to Shanghai and look into the soul of Jiang Zemin that he wants to avoid doing anything that might irritate the communist leader before they get together.

For his part Jiang Zemin, who just signed a strategic alliance with Russia and recently told his top generals that China "would pay any price" to conquer Taiwan, has shown no inclination to smooth the way for his meeting with President Bush. His government throws U.S. citizens and residents in prison on trumped-up spy charges, tortures Falun Gong members for doing their exercises, and conducts major military maneuvers opposite Taiwan, widely advertising them as practice for invading Taiwan and sinking U.S. aircraft carriers.

The State Department says cross-strait dialogue is in our interest, but it refuses to support the dialogue most likely to produce results, between the two decision-makers, because Beijing says no. President Bush has overruled the State Department before. He should do so again and go to the APEC summit as a friend of democracy, supporting President Chen's participation.

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