- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 17, 2008

NEWSMAKER INTERVIEW:

Taiwan’s days as a “troublemaker” are over, and its “provocative” behavior toward China in the past several years is giving way to “flexible diplomacy,” the island’s new envoy to Washington said Tuesday.

Jason Yuan, head of Taiwan’s Economic and Cultural Representative Office, or de facto embassy, also said that Taiwanese leader Ma Ying-jeou will significantly improve relations with the United States, which suffered under his pro-independence predecessor, Chen Shui-bian.

“We want to survive,” Mr. Yuan told editors and reporters at The Washington Times. “We are so tiny, we have to be friendly with everybody, particularly a superpower like the United States. We don’t want to be provocative; we don’t want to confront [anyone].”

The Bush administration had a difficult relationship with Mr. Chen, whose eight years in office were marked by rising tensions in the Taiwan Strait and a high-profile diplomatic fight with China over official recognition by dozens of countries.

Taiwan has diplomatic relations with 23 states, Mr. Yuan noted. Most are small countries in Latin America, Africa and the South Pacific. They include Belize, Guatemala, Gambia and the Solomon Islands.

Mr. Yuan said that Taiwan will abandon some of the tactics employed by Mr. Chen’s government, such as “writing checks” to secure allegiance, and will provide foreign aid only for specific projects that benefit the receiving country.

Mr. Ma will pursue neither independence nor reunification with the mainland, said Mr. Yuan, who described his president as “flexible, mild and pragmatic.” The Taiwanese president “feels we should not challenge each other,” the envoy said in a reference to mainland China. “He doesn’t want to be a troublemaker - he wants to be a peacemaker.”

Mr. Yuan credited President Bush with helping Taiwan’s diplomatic reconciliation with Beijing by calling both Mr. Ma and Chinese President Hu Jintao in late March, about the time of Mr. Ma’s election.

The envoy, who has been in his position only a month, expressed optimism that a multibillion-dollar U.S. arms package to Taiwan will materialize after years of delay by the island’s parliament. Washington is committed to Taiwan’s defense by law.

As a sign of Taiwan’s desire to be non-provocative, Mr. Yuan said that, for the first time since 1993, Taiwan will not seek a seat in the U.N. General Assembly this year. Although the island’s 23 million people should not be “ignored” by the United Nations, Mr. Ma’s government will try to join only specialized U.N. bodies, such as the World Health Organization, where Taiwan can make “meaningful contributions,” Mr. Yuan said.

China has not indicated whether it will use its diplomatic weight as a permanent Security Council member to block Taipei’s downsized aspirations, but Mr. Yuan said that statements by Chinese officials had not completely closed the door to a compromise.

Taiwan, which hopes to join 16 U.N. bodies, is the world’s 17th largest economy and has contributed cash and emergency assistance to specific projects over the years, although it has not made contributions to the organizations themselves.

Beijing took over Taipei’s U.N. seat in 1971.

China stands ready to discuss a broad range of sensitive military, economic and diplomatic issues with Taiwan if the island’s new government accepts Beijing’s terms on national sovereignty, China’s U.S. ambassador, Zhou Wenzhong, told The Times in June.

“We have made clear that, as long as they agree to the one-China principle, everything can be discussed,” Mr. Zhou said, including such topics as China’s military buildup across the Taiwan Strait and Taiwan’s participation in international organizations.

Mr. Ma, 58, was sworn in as president on May 20, and the first foreign delegation he received was from the United States, Mr. Yuan said. It was headed by Mr. Bush’s former chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr.

A lawyer by training, Mr. Ma was educated in both Taiwan and the United States, where he attended New York University and Harvard. He was born in Hong Kong, but his family moved to Taiwan when he was 1 year old. He is also a former mayor of Taipei.

Mr. Yuan, who headed the Washington office of Mr. Ma’s party when it was in opposition, has spent decades in the United States in various capacities. He served in the Taiwanese navy and earned a master’s degree from Southeastern University in Washington.

Betsy Pisik at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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