- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 18, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

America’s Asian ally, Taiwan, is on the right track. The nation has embarked on a cautious rapprochement with China, while simultaneously maintaining close ties with the United States. In an interview with editors and reporters at The Washington Times, Jason Yuan, head of Taiwan’s Economic and Cultural Representative Office, said the government continues its plans to finalize a multibillion-dollar arms package with the United States - one that has long been stalled by Taiwan’s parliament. Yet Mr. Yuan said these weapons are for defensive purposes and will not threaten the current greater openness with China.

Since he assumed office in May, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou is seeking to be a “peacemaker” rather than a “troublemaker,” said Mr. Yuan. Mr. Ma’s approach contrasts sharply with that of his predecessor, who promoted Taiwan’s independence and was often confrontational with China. Following a civil war in 1949, Taiwan insists it is the legal continuation of the Republic of China. In 1992, both sides agreed to recognize one China, but have different definitions. The Taiwanese, who have a democratic government and a security pact with the United States, are de facto independent. Taiwan is recognized by 23 governments.

Mr.Yuan said that the improvement in cross-strait relations was in large measure due to the actions of President Bush: He encouraged the overture by speaking to both sides about the benefits of co-operation. Mr. Juan stated that Mr. Bush impressed upon the Taiwanese that they are a beacon of democracy in Asia and in the world. The new regime is now pursuing “flexible diplomacy” that has borne fruit: Talks have led to weekend charter flights between China and Taiwan, permission for mainland tourists to travel to Taiwan and the easing of investment restrictions. Mr. Yuan said the government will next negotiate a range of issues, which include permitting cargo flights between the parties. Mr. Yuan affirmed the government’s approach to seeking a “modus vivendi” with the mainland, instead of wasting resources on confrontation. He hoped that progress will be made “step by step” and by extending an “olive branch.”

Mr. Yuan reiterated at several intervals his view of the rapport between Taiwan and America. He stated that Taiwan is the freest nation in Asia due to having learned about democracy from America; he said the American people are Taiwan’s stalwart allies.

There is little reason for China to maintain its military buildup across the Taiwan Strait and to block Taiwan’s participation in international organizations. The decades-long standoff between the two nations should make way for a broader collaboration in order to achieve greater mutual prosperity. And Americans can only hope that as the Chinese have greater access to Taiwan, they will also develop greater admiration for freedom and democracy.

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