- The Washington Times - Monday, November 20, 2000

The next U.S. president will likely face a key foreign policy challenge when he assumes office. A dramatic showdown between Taiwan's major political powers could force the new head of state to take a more definitive U.S. stance on Taiwan's sovereignty vis-a-vis China.

Taiwan's Nationalist Party, the dominant power in parliament, has threatened to recall President Chen Shui-bian's March election victory. If the recall motion is passed, then a new election would be called in which Mr. Chen, who is from the Democratic Progressive Party, would be prohibited from participating. On Nov. 7, lawmakers approved two laws that pave the way for a presidential recall, but legislators have yet to vote on the measure.

The Nationalist Party would need a two-thirds majority to pass through the presidential recall in parliament. The measure would then have to be validated by a vote of just over 50 percent of the Taiwanese people in a referendum. It would appear the Nationalist Party is just a hair's breadth away from pushing the recall through the legislature. The party's Standing Committee has threatened to expel any party member who failed to support the measure. But the Taiwanese people don't seem prepared to support such a drastic move. Although Mr. Chen's popularity ratings have fallen dramatically since he took office, over 60 percent in a recent survey said they are opposed to a recall.

Mr. Chen is being challenged for a variety of reasons. Although Mr. Chen had once supported a referendum on Taiwan's independence from China, shortly before the March vote, Mr. Chen tried to defuse concerns his presidency would lead to confrontation with Beijing, and he promised to reach out to the communist regime. Mr. Chen, however, has flouted that campaign promise, and many Taiwanese are disappointed. This has given the opposition better leverage against him. In addition, Mr. Chen enraged the opposition by unilaterally declaring his government would halt construction on a $5 billion nuclear power plant, even though parliament had passed a law authorizing the construction.

It it is not as though we do not have political issues enough to worry about in this country, and Taiwan's constitutional crisis could hardly have come at a more inopportune moment. A new U.S. president might have to give Taiwan unambiguous support at the risk of infuriating Beijing.

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