Associated Press

Bush or Kerry: who would be best for Taiwan?

Sunday September 05, 2004

TAIPEI (AP) - When it comes to U.S. relations, the last four years have been some of the best ever for Taiwan.

The Bush administration approved one of the biggest weapons sales deals for the island. It let the Taiwanese president make high-profile U.S. trips. And the island got one of the strongest pledges that America would help defend it against a Chinese attack.

Will the good times continue if Bush loses the November election to Democratic challenger John Kerry?

Some analysts say Kerry would be more like the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton, and adopt a less friendly, more cautious approach to Taiwan. They point to the party platform adopted at last month's convention.

The platform only devotes one 33-word sentence to the Taiwan issue. It says the Democrats support a peaceful solution to the island's five-decade feud with China, just 160 kilometers (100 miles) across the Taiwan Strait. Any resolution should be agreeable to the Taiwanese, it says.

A civil war split Taiwan and China in 1949, and Beijing repeatedly warns the democratic island it must eventually unify or face war. Most Taiwanese oppose rule by a Communist government they consider repressive _ and solid military ties with Washington are seen as vital to their defense.

The Republicans' platform seems much more robust than the Democrats' on the issue. Its 215-word statement on Taiwan also calls for a peaceful resolution endorsed by the Taiwanese. But it warns that if China tries to use force, the United States will respond in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act _ a U.S. law requiring America to help in Taiwan's defense.

"America will help Taiwan defend itself," the Republican platform says.

Kerry has also fueled worries by saying in January that Washington should push Taiwan to accept a "one-China, two systems" unification model, which is China's policy and extremely unpopular in Taiwan.

Under the plan, Beijing would rule Taiwan but the island would be given wide autonomy. But most Taiwanese fear the Communist leadership would be unable to resist meddling in the island's democracy.

Taiwanese officials say the Kerry campaign told them the candidate simply misspoke.

But June Teufel Dreyer, a political science professor at the University of Miami, said the platform and Kerry's remark don't bode well for Taiwan.

"The differences of emphasis in the Republican and Democratic platforms are meaningful," she said. "I do not think it was just a slip of the tongue when Kerry said one country, two systems was the way to resolve the cross-strait issue."

So far, Taiwanese leaders' mantra is that U.S. policy will be mainly the same no matter who wins.

"There will be some tiny differences and some fluctuations if Kerry wins," said a top presidential strategist, Chiou I-jen. "But the general framework won't change."

But Taiwan's representative in Washington for the past four years, Chen Chien-jen, wasn't shy about heaping praise on Bush's administration in a recent speech at the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei. Chen first ticked off a long list of setbacks and friction points during the Clinton era.

"From the beginning, people realized that Bush was sympathetic to us, ideologically close to us," Chen said. "From the beginning, you could feel the atmosphere of friendliness."

It hasn't always been so cozy. Bush gave Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian a rare public rebuke a few months ago, when the Taiwanese leader seemed to be recklessly riling Beijing with anti-China policies.

Daniel Lynch, a political science professor at the University of Southern California, said that whoever gets elected will pressure Taiwan not to provoke China, and that "either candidate would support Taiwan in a crunch."

It's likely Kerry's advisers would be less sympathetic to Taiwan and more accommodating toward China, he said.

"But in the end," he said, "they would put U.S. national interests ahead of personal preferences, and clearly it's not in the U.S. interest to see China violently annex a friendly Asian democratic country like Taiwan."

A look at what the Democratic, Republican platforms say about Taiwan

The complete text of what the Democratic and Republican platforms say about Taiwan policy ahead of the U.S. presidential election:

The Democratic platform on Taiwan:

We are committed to a one-China policy and will continue to support a peaceful resolution of cross-Straits issues that is consistent with the wishes and best interest of the Taiwanese people.

The Republican platform on Taiwan:

The United States government's policy is that there is one China, as reflected in the three communiqu├ęs and the Taiwan Relations Act. America opposes any unilateral decision by either China or Taiwan to change the status quo. Republicans recognize that America's policy is based on the principle that there must be no use of force by China against Taiwan. We deny the right of Beijing to impose its rule on the free Taiwanese people. All issues regarding Taiwan's future must be resolved peacefully and must be agreeable to the people of Taiwan. If China violates these principles and attacks Taiwan, then the United State will respond appropriately in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act. America will help Taiwan defend itself.

Republicans applaud President Bush and the Republican Congress of honoring our nation's promises to the people of Taiwan, a long-standing friend of the United States and a genuine democracy. Taiwan deserves America's strong support, including the timely sale of defensive arms to enhance Taiwan's security. In recognition of its growing importance in the global economy, Republicans applaud Taiwan's membership in the World Trade Organization and support its participation in the World Health Organization and other multilateral institutions.