Chen makes another voyage

The China Post

Once again, President Chen Shui-bian is preparing to make a visit to Central America in the hopes of shoring up ties with our diplomatic allies in the region.

President Chen, who departs Tuesday for Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua, is making the trip in the wake of Costa Rica’s recent decision to cut off ties with us in favor of recognizing Beijing.

The loss of Costa Rica had led to widespread speculation that other Central American countries would soon follow suit.

That would surely deliver a major blow to our diplomatic efforts, since Central America is the very last region in the world where the majority of governments still choose to recognize us instead of communist China.

We hope that President Chen will succeed in his mission of shoring up ties with the handful of diplomatic allies we have left in the world. However, we also hope that the president does not attempt to make any wide-ranging promises of aid and trade that he may not be able to keep after he gets home on August 29.

While some level of foreign aid is required, given the lavish promises of cash coming from Beijing these days, any promises that President Chen makes will still have to gain approval from the Legislative Yuan in order to be carried out.

That will require support from opposition parties who control a majority of seats in the legislature. Since we are in an election year and competition for a limited number of seats is white-hot, President Chen should fully expect politicians of all stripes to review any promises he makes with a fine-toothed comb.

There is also a great deal of controversy surrounding President Chen’s apparent refusal to disembark from his aircraft during brief stopovers in the U.S. state of Alaska on his way to and from Central America. In recent days, the president’s plan to remain on his plane while it refuels in Alaska has generated many headlines in the domestic press.

Without a doubt, President Chen is trying to make a kind of silent protest akin to what former President Lee Teng-hui did when he transited in Hawaii in 1994 on his way to Costa Rica.

Back then, President Lee chose to remain on his aircraft and receive visitors in his pajamas to protest Washington’s refusal to let him stay in a proper hotel out of deference to protests from Beijing.

President Lee’s snub led to a major change in U.S. policy, since Washington was embarrassed by its own treatment of Lee, the leader of a democratic country that was friendly to the United States and its policies.

After the U.S. Congress passed a non-binding resolution demanding that Lee be issued a U.S. visa, Washington soon relented on its policy of not allowing leaders from Taiwan to make transit visits. Since then, President Lee and his successor, President Chen, have made a number of visits to the United States while transiting on their way to other countries.

However, the U.S. government has been careful to choose the places where Taiwan leaders may transit, and the place chosen for the transit stops has been interpreted to reflect the current state of ties between Taipei and Washington.

At present, it appears that Alaska has been chosen to express Washington’s frustration with President Chen’s insistence on changing the status quo in the Taiwan Strait.

Despite repeated protests and warnings from Washington, President Chen has pressed on with his plan to hold a referendum on our government’s efforts to rejoin the United Nations under the name “Taiwan.” It is clear that Washington is displeased with this policy and is making Chen stop in a faraway place in order to demonstrate its displeasure.

By refusing to get off his aircraft, President Chen is trying to make the same kind of protest that President Lee made many years ago.

However, unlike President Lee’s actions more than a decade ago, we believe President Chen’s protest is likely to fall on deaf ears in Washington.

After all, the U.S. government is no longer refusing to let Taiwan’s democratically elected leader transit in American territory.

Instead, Washington is merely retaliating against President Chen for his repeated efforts to break down the status quo in a highly sensitive region of the world.

At a time when Washington has its hands full fighting a war in Iraq and combating terrorism around the globe, the last thing America needs is for Taiwan to stir up trouble in this part of the world.

Unlike in the past, when U.S. public opinion was deeply impressed by our democracy, these days our American friends are likely to say “suit yourself” when President Chen refuses to step out of his plane.