Commentary Magazine


Topic: Deputy Secretary of State

FPI Conference (Part 3)

There is an art that the best State Department functionaries master: to take hard questions that present troubling facts or contradictions in policy and to give in response a long, rambling answer that, by the end, dilutes the impact of the question and leaves the audience at a loss to remember what was orginally being asked. There is no one better at this than Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, who wrapped up the FPI conference.

It was evident that the administration came with an olive branch to the right and with many fine sentiments about bipartisanship in foreign policy. Who can blame it? The administration’s biggest successes (e.g., Iraq, appointment of Gen. Petraeus in Afghanistan) have been supported by conservatives. With an assertive Republican House and more conservative voices in the Senate, the administration doesn’t need more headaches, so foreign policy offers a chance to show its bipartisan inclinations. One way to do that is not to talk about the hard stuff. So, in his prepared remarks, Steinberg didn’t bring up Iran, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Europe, human rights, Hugo Chavez, or other topics that are sources of disagreement between the Obama team and conservatives.

He did talk about Southeast Asia. It’s very important. We are making many trips there. We’re going to have “sustained engagement.” And we’re very “clear-eyed” about China.

His next topics were Iraq and Afghanistan, where he echoed many of Sen. Joe Lieberman’s remarks (and Sen. John McCain’s from the previous day). On Iraq, we need bipartisanship and, yes, more “sustained engagement.” On Afghanistan, again, we must maintain funding. In the Q&A, he expressed himself as delighted with the Afghanistan war-strategy process. It was “serious,” he intoned. He’s never seen a president so involved. And that 2011 deadline? With perfect earnestness he explained: “There is no ambiguity. It is the beginning of a transition.” Really, there was “never any intention to see it as a dramatic turning point. … If we need to do a better job of messaging, we’ll do a better job.”

The third topic was START. (During the conference, Sen. Jon Kyl declared it isn’t going to get a vote in the lame-duck session.) This should be a bipartisan issue too, he asserted. He added that “there are no restraints” on our ability to pursue missile defense, and it comes packaged with an unprecedented commitment to force modernization.

Things got a bit dicier in the Q&A conducted by Robert Kagan. What about human rights in Russia? Why aren’t we talking more about democracy in Egypt? Again, Steinberg, in measured tones, with no hint of defensiveness, argued that “it should be clear” that we remain committed to human rights in Russia. On our support for democracy and human rights in Egypt, you see, it is important “to say it when it matters.” (But not at public news conferences, I suppose.) Kagan pressed him on the G-20: how could we go in there with such dissention between the U.S. and Europe? Oh, now, now. We’ve had hard times with allies in the past. Why is China exhibiting such bullying behavior of late? Ah, it’s a transition period, and there are many voice there. Why aren’t we getting these free-trade agreements done? Well, on South Korea, sometimes the “work just is not ready,” so we’ll keep at it. Colombia? He’s very encouraged.

Steinberg is such an articulate and calm figure, the consummate professional, that you’d almost forget listening to him that Obama’s Middle East policy is in shambles, that Iran is on the ascendency and on the road to getting the bomb, that our human-rights policy is under attack by the left and right, that Russia and China are both feeling emboldened to extend their influence, and that our relations with Europe are badly frayed. But what comes across loud and clear is that the Obama team wants to be perceived as operating well within the bipartisan tradition of American foreign policy. If that entails an ongoing presence in Iraq, a sustained effort in Afghanistan, a determination to deny Iran nuclear weapons, a cessation of its foolhardy obsession with Israeli settlements, a competent and forceful free-trade policy, and consistent defense of human rights, then the administration will earn the support of conservatives and, more important, the respect of foes and the confidence of allies.

There is an art that the best State Department functionaries master: to take hard questions that present troubling facts or contradictions in policy and to give in response a long, rambling answer that, by the end, dilutes the impact of the question and leaves the audience at a loss to remember what was orginally being asked. There is no one better at this than Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, who wrapped up the FPI conference.

It was evident that the administration came with an olive branch to the right and with many fine sentiments about bipartisanship in foreign policy. Who can blame it? The administration’s biggest successes (e.g., Iraq, appointment of Gen. Petraeus in Afghanistan) have been supported by conservatives. With an assertive Republican House and more conservative voices in the Senate, the administration doesn’t need more headaches, so foreign policy offers a chance to show its bipartisan inclinations. One way to do that is not to talk about the hard stuff. So, in his prepared remarks, Steinberg didn’t bring up Iran, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Europe, human rights, Hugo Chavez, or other topics that are sources of disagreement between the Obama team and conservatives.

He did talk about Southeast Asia. It’s very important. We are making many trips there. We’re going to have “sustained engagement.” And we’re very “clear-eyed” about China.

His next topics were Iraq and Afghanistan, where he echoed many of Sen. Joe Lieberman’s remarks (and Sen. John McCain’s from the previous day). On Iraq, we need bipartisanship and, yes, more “sustained engagement.” On Afghanistan, again, we must maintain funding. In the Q&A, he expressed himself as delighted with the Afghanistan war-strategy process. It was “serious,” he intoned. He’s never seen a president so involved. And that 2011 deadline? With perfect earnestness he explained: “There is no ambiguity. It is the beginning of a transition.” Really, there was “never any intention to see it as a dramatic turning point. … If we need to do a better job of messaging, we’ll do a better job.”

The third topic was START. (During the conference, Sen. Jon Kyl declared it isn’t going to get a vote in the lame-duck session.) This should be a bipartisan issue too, he asserted. He added that “there are no restraints” on our ability to pursue missile defense, and it comes packaged with an unprecedented commitment to force modernization.

Things got a bit dicier in the Q&A conducted by Robert Kagan. What about human rights in Russia? Why aren’t we talking more about democracy in Egypt? Again, Steinberg, in measured tones, with no hint of defensiveness, argued that “it should be clear” that we remain committed to human rights in Russia. On our support for democracy and human rights in Egypt, you see, it is important “to say it when it matters.” (But not at public news conferences, I suppose.) Kagan pressed him on the G-20: how could we go in there with such dissention between the U.S. and Europe? Oh, now, now. We’ve had hard times with allies in the past. Why is China exhibiting such bullying behavior of late? Ah, it’s a transition period, and there are many voice there. Why aren’t we getting these free-trade agreements done? Well, on South Korea, sometimes the “work just is not ready,” so we’ll keep at it. Colombia? He’s very encouraged.

Steinberg is such an articulate and calm figure, the consummate professional, that you’d almost forget listening to him that Obama’s Middle East policy is in shambles, that Iran is on the ascendency and on the road to getting the bomb, that our human-rights policy is under attack by the left and right, that Russia and China are both feeling emboldened to extend their influence, and that our relations with Europe are badly frayed. But what comes across loud and clear is that the Obama team wants to be perceived as operating well within the bipartisan tradition of American foreign policy. If that entails an ongoing presence in Iraq, a sustained effort in Afghanistan, a determination to deny Iran nuclear weapons, a cessation of its foolhardy obsession with Israeli settlements, a competent and forceful free-trade policy, and consistent defense of human rights, then the administration will earn the support of conservatives and, more important, the respect of foes and the confidence of allies.

Read Less

Oren “Summoned” — but to What End?

It seems as though the Obami’s tactic here has been to bludgeon Israel — in small ways and large, in public and in private. JTA reports:

[Israeli Ambassador Michael] Oren’s spokesman, Jonathan Peled, confirmed to JTA that the ambassador indeed had been “summoned” for a meeting last Friday with James Steinberg, the deputy secretary of state. The summons came as the controversy engendered by Israel’s announcement of new construction in eastern Jerusalem during last week’s visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden showed no sign of abating.

“It wasn’t a meeting,” Oren told the Washington Jewish Week in an interview at a fund-raiser for a Washington-area school on Sunday night. “It was a summoning. I was told it was the first time that any ambassador had been summoned at that level.”

Oren said he is “working hard to avert an escalation. We’re working very hard to get back to what we need to do to make peace and stop Iran from making the bomb. We have apologized publicly and privately profusely.”

But you see, an apology is not what the administration needs or wants. It wants a fight, a scene, a sign to its beloved Palestinian friends that it can be tough, tougher than on any other nation on the planet, with Israel. What we have here is a heartfelt desire to cozy up to the Palestinians; what’s missing is a cogent explanation for what this gets us. No Israeli prime minister has suspended or will suspend building in its capital. No amount of unilateral concessions, even if offered, would unlock the “peace process.” So the point of this is what then? To permanently shift American policy toward Israel? To create havoc and further uncertainty as to where the U.S. stands regarding Israeli security? We are seeing the full flowering of what many of us during the campaign suspected and what was revealed in the Cairo speech: Obama has a deep affinity with the victimology mythology of the Palestinians. We have never had such a president and never had such an Israel policy. This is precisely why “change” can be a very, very bad thing indeed.

It seems as though the Obami’s tactic here has been to bludgeon Israel — in small ways and large, in public and in private. JTA reports:

[Israeli Ambassador Michael] Oren’s spokesman, Jonathan Peled, confirmed to JTA that the ambassador indeed had been “summoned” for a meeting last Friday with James Steinberg, the deputy secretary of state. The summons came as the controversy engendered by Israel’s announcement of new construction in eastern Jerusalem during last week’s visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden showed no sign of abating.

“It wasn’t a meeting,” Oren told the Washington Jewish Week in an interview at a fund-raiser for a Washington-area school on Sunday night. “It was a summoning. I was told it was the first time that any ambassador had been summoned at that level.”

Oren said he is “working hard to avert an escalation. We’re working very hard to get back to what we need to do to make peace and stop Iran from making the bomb. We have apologized publicly and privately profusely.”

But you see, an apology is not what the administration needs or wants. It wants a fight, a scene, a sign to its beloved Palestinian friends that it can be tough, tougher than on any other nation on the planet, with Israel. What we have here is a heartfelt desire to cozy up to the Palestinians; what’s missing is a cogent explanation for what this gets us. No Israeli prime minister has suspended or will suspend building in its capital. No amount of unilateral concessions, even if offered, would unlock the “peace process.” So the point of this is what then? To permanently shift American policy toward Israel? To create havoc and further uncertainty as to where the U.S. stands regarding Israeli security? We are seeing the full flowering of what many of us during the campaign suspected and what was revealed in the Cairo speech: Obama has a deep affinity with the victimology mythology of the Palestinians. We have never had such a president and never had such an Israel policy. This is precisely why “change” can be a very, very bad thing indeed.

Read Less

Not So Fast on Sanctions

The House voted overwhelmingly, 412-12, in favor of the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act authorizing the president to impose penalties on foreign companies that sell oil to Iran or that help the country with its oil-producing capacity. AIPAC applauded the move. (“The United States and our allies must do everything we can to use crippling diplomatic and economic pressure to peaceably prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and avoid confronting more distressing alternatives.”) The J Street crowd was quiet because the administration isn’t thrilled with the move. (Whatever the most dovish position in the administration might conceivably be, we have learned, will bear an uncanny resemblance to the line of the day from J Street.) Wait — didn’t we turn a corner? Isn’t the administration hinting at sanctions? For now, at least, the administration is pulling back on the reins. This report explains:

Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, in a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, said the Obama administration was “entering a critical period of intense diplomacy to impose significant international pressure on Iran.” Sanctions legislation “might weaken rather than strengthen international unity and support for our efforts,” Steinberg’s letter said.

This is a crowd that’s allergic to leverage. Because the Foggy Bottom team is pleading or getting ready to plead with Russia, China, and the rest, the administration doesn’t even want the authority to act on its own should the “international community” wimp out. Such authority, never mind action, might rattle or annoy our sanctions ”partners.” Rep. Howard Berman, who sponsored the measure, doesn’t buy that. (“The House passage of this legislation empowers the administration to point out that, ‘Here is a way a lot of people in Congress want to go, and we think there is a better way, but this issue will not go away.’ “) Berman diplomatically said that the administration neither encouraged or discouraged him, leaving unsaid that the administration is doing what it can to halt any Senate action.

Meanwhile, one gets the sense that the Obami haven’t quite turned that corner yet. We learn:

One European diplomat said a senior White House official had recently told him that the Obama White House seeks to use what it calls the pressure track to try to get Iran back on the engagement track over the next several months. The senior White House official also said that U.S. and international credibility would be hurt if they didn’t demonstrate that they were serious after weeks of telegraphing the end of the year deadline for Iran to show progress on the engagement track, or face consequences.

Yes, if we can only get the mullahs back to the bargaining table, then we can certainly solve this! There’s a pathetic and deeply unserious quality to all this, an afraid-of-our-own-shadow feel to the administration’s efforts. Don’t want to make the Europeans mad. Don’t want to look like we mean business. It doesn’t bode well for vigorous action that would convey to the Iranian regime the negative consequences of proceeding with its nuclear program. But after a year of dithering, engagement, and playing dumb at the bargaining table, we’ve already left an impression of irresolution and weakness with the mullahs. It’s not one the administration seems eager to undo.

The House voted overwhelmingly, 412-12, in favor of the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act authorizing the president to impose penalties on foreign companies that sell oil to Iran or that help the country with its oil-producing capacity. AIPAC applauded the move. (“The United States and our allies must do everything we can to use crippling diplomatic and economic pressure to peaceably prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and avoid confronting more distressing alternatives.”) The J Street crowd was quiet because the administration isn’t thrilled with the move. (Whatever the most dovish position in the administration might conceivably be, we have learned, will bear an uncanny resemblance to the line of the day from J Street.) Wait — didn’t we turn a corner? Isn’t the administration hinting at sanctions? For now, at least, the administration is pulling back on the reins. This report explains:

Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, in a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, said the Obama administration was “entering a critical period of intense diplomacy to impose significant international pressure on Iran.” Sanctions legislation “might weaken rather than strengthen international unity and support for our efforts,” Steinberg’s letter said.

This is a crowd that’s allergic to leverage. Because the Foggy Bottom team is pleading or getting ready to plead with Russia, China, and the rest, the administration doesn’t even want the authority to act on its own should the “international community” wimp out. Such authority, never mind action, might rattle or annoy our sanctions ”partners.” Rep. Howard Berman, who sponsored the measure, doesn’t buy that. (“The House passage of this legislation empowers the administration to point out that, ‘Here is a way a lot of people in Congress want to go, and we think there is a better way, but this issue will not go away.’ “) Berman diplomatically said that the administration neither encouraged or discouraged him, leaving unsaid that the administration is doing what it can to halt any Senate action.

Meanwhile, one gets the sense that the Obami haven’t quite turned that corner yet. We learn:

One European diplomat said a senior White House official had recently told him that the Obama White House seeks to use what it calls the pressure track to try to get Iran back on the engagement track over the next several months. The senior White House official also said that U.S. and international credibility would be hurt if they didn’t demonstrate that they were serious after weeks of telegraphing the end of the year deadline for Iran to show progress on the engagement track, or face consequences.

Yes, if we can only get the mullahs back to the bargaining table, then we can certainly solve this! There’s a pathetic and deeply unserious quality to all this, an afraid-of-our-own-shadow feel to the administration’s efforts. Don’t want to make the Europeans mad. Don’t want to look like we mean business. It doesn’t bode well for vigorous action that would convey to the Iranian regime the negative consequences of proceeding with its nuclear program. But after a year of dithering, engagement, and playing dumb at the bargaining table, we’ve already left an impression of irresolution and weakness with the mullahs. It’s not one the administration seems eager to undo.

Read Less

China’s Attack Plan

Will China launch some major and dangerous move against Taiwan—a blockade? missile firings? worse?—next March, just five months ahead of the opening of the triumphant Beijing Olympics (motto: “one world, one dream”)?

Such madness seems inconceivable. Yet the pattern of Beijing’s diplomacy with respect to Taiwan’s referendum on its application to the United Nations is convincing me that some such action is possible, even likely.

China is intent on denying any international status to Taiwan, a democratic country of some 23 million people having a gross national product approaching four hundred billion dollars.

She was expelled from the UN in 1971 when China joined and has failed a dozen times to rejoin thereafter. Now she plans a referendum on how to word her next application. (I have explained these basic issues in an earlier posting.)

Read More

Will China launch some major and dangerous move against Taiwan—a blockade? missile firings? worse?—next March, just five months ahead of the opening of the triumphant Beijing Olympics (motto: “one world, one dream”)?

Such madness seems inconceivable. Yet the pattern of Beijing’s diplomacy with respect to Taiwan’s referendum on its application to the United Nations is convincing me that some such action is possible, even likely.

China is intent on denying any international status to Taiwan, a democratic country of some 23 million people having a gross national product approaching four hundred billion dollars.

She was expelled from the UN in 1971 when China joined and has failed a dozen times to rejoin thereafter. Now she plans a referendum on how to word her next application. (I have explained these basic issues in an earlier posting.)

As China seeks to stanch leaks in the diplomatic embargo, it is becoming clear that Beijing has decided to make the referendum into a casus belli: into the “red line,” the provocation that cannot be tolerated and that must force her to turn to military coercion. She is preparing the ground carefully, lining up support for her position from the very countries that might back Taiwan.

Thus, for months last year the Chinese embassy hammered the relevant American Deputy Assistant Secretary of State with threats. The result: on August 27, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte stated unequivocally that “any kind of provocative steps” on Taiwan’s part were unacceptable.

Shortly thereafter, Chinese President Hu Jintao directly warned President Bush “that this year and the next will be a ‘highly dangerous period’ in the Taiwan Strait.” He referred, ominously, to China’s 2005 “Anti-Secession Law,” which requires the use of “nonpeaceful means” to counter “major incidents entailing Taiwan’s secession from China.” Hu stated that the referendum would be just such a “major incident.”

Now France and Britain have, unwittingly I think, added their signatures to the international permission slip that China appears to be preparing. According to Reuters, on November 26, French President Nicolas Sarkozy stated “that France opposes Taiwan’s contentious plan to hold a referendum on UN membership next year.” Then, according to AFP, Foreign Secretary David Miliband made clear on December 5 Britain’s opposition to the referendum on pushing for UN membership, adding that any “reckless maneuvers” were to be “deplored.”

Without insistent Chinese prompting, one suspects, neither Negroponte nor Sarkozy nor Miliband would have spoken. Yet all did, in complete ignorance, one suspects, of the net China is weaving.

For who will protest or act if China does use the referendum as a pretext for military action next March? One would expect democratic powers such as the United States, France, and Britain to take the lead. But they have already stated their support for China’s political position (though not for force). My fear is that such statements of seeming acquiescence may persuade China that she could get away with a turn to force. Such miscalculation could in fact lead to war.

Read Less

Leadership on Taiwan

The time has come for Washington to show some leadership regarding Taiwan’s U.N. membership as the issue gains traction in China and on the island. The Bush administration should propose a way to go forward. Here are some suggestions.

First, we should state clearly that, like the Olympic games, which China is hosting next year, the U.N. is intended to be entirely inclusive. Just as Taiwan will be sending teams to the Olympics, we in Washington think she should also be able to send a delegation to the United Nations. Second, we should indicate that the United States fundamentally supports democracy and human rights for all peoples, including the people of Taiwan. We never intended that nearly thirty years should pass (since our break with Taipei in 1979) during which those people, having made themselves democratic, should be excluded from the international community. Third, we should call on China to join the rest of the world in finding a way forward, so that Taiwan can send a delegation to New York as she will send teams to Beijing. Finally, we should stress that violence and coercion are ruled out. They are simply not options and will be resisted by the United States.

Read More

The time has come for Washington to show some leadership regarding Taiwan’s U.N. membership as the issue gains traction in China and on the island. The Bush administration should propose a way to go forward. Here are some suggestions.

First, we should state clearly that, like the Olympic games, which China is hosting next year, the U.N. is intended to be entirely inclusive. Just as Taiwan will be sending teams to the Olympics, we in Washington think she should also be able to send a delegation to the United Nations. Second, we should indicate that the United States fundamentally supports democracy and human rights for all peoples, including the people of Taiwan. We never intended that nearly thirty years should pass (since our break with Taipei in 1979) during which those people, having made themselves democratic, should be excluded from the international community. Third, we should call on China to join the rest of the world in finding a way forward, so that Taiwan can send a delegation to New York as she will send teams to Beijing. Finally, we should stress that violence and coercion are ruled out. They are simply not options and will be resisted by the United States.

By adopting such a forward-looking position, Washington would escape the trap into which she is now falling, which is serving as China’s enforcer. Since August 27th we have been manifesting a clear double standard with respect to Taiwan, the only explanation for which is fear of China. On that day Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte warned Taiwan about carrying out a referendum—a democratic exercise. Other officials have since joined in (as my previous posts have chronicled). But when Pakistan’s Prime Minister Musharraf expelled former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to Saudi Arabia, an undemocratic action if ever there was one, the same Deputy Secretary had no comment and praised Pakistan as our friend.

Meanwhile, in Taiwan, various demonstrations brought hundreds of thousands out in favor of votes on the U.N.—and 12,000 pro-China demonstrators out against such a vote. Steam is building up. If Washington does not start leading instead of reacting, case by case, to Chinese demands, trouble lies ahead. China will give us nothing in return for disciplining Taiwan. She will treat it as no more than our duty while taking it as a basis for more extensive future demands. At some point those demands will be more than we can accept. Our passivity will have brought us to a possibly dangerous impasse. Far better to seize the initiative now. Let Washington take the lead in challenging China and the world to find a way that will permit Taiwan once again to be represented in the United Nations.

Read Less

Clarity on Taiwan

Chinese President Hu Jintao reportedly will ask that President Bush personally express his opposition to the upcoming referendum in Taiwan over U.N. membership. Evidently, statements of opposition from Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte (on Phoenix TV in Hong Kong) and former CIA analyst (and now National Security Council member) Dennis Wilder have not satisfied the Chinese authorities. According to the World Journal of September 3, Hu will make the request when he meets President Bush at the upcoming APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) meeting in Australia. A tempest is now brewing over a matter that Washington should have dismissed with a simple “no comment.”

Beijing is clearly worried that democracy in Taiwan will get out of hand. It has evidently been warning and threatening us—perhaps, and this is my own speculation, suggesting the Chinese government might undertake some symbolic or real military action if a “red line” is crossed. This would be most unwelcome given the current state of Iraq and Afghanistan. So Washington has made a huge effort to make absolutely certain that no trouble develops in Asia—leading to an overreaction that is proving seriously counterproductive.

Read More

Chinese President Hu Jintao reportedly will ask that President Bush personally express his opposition to the upcoming referendum in Taiwan over U.N. membership. Evidently, statements of opposition from Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte (on Phoenix TV in Hong Kong) and former CIA analyst (and now National Security Council member) Dennis Wilder have not satisfied the Chinese authorities. According to the World Journal of September 3, Hu will make the request when he meets President Bush at the upcoming APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) meeting in Australia. A tempest is now brewing over a matter that Washington should have dismissed with a simple “no comment.”

Beijing is clearly worried that democracy in Taiwan will get out of hand. It has evidently been warning and threatening us—perhaps, and this is my own speculation, suggesting the Chinese government might undertake some symbolic or real military action if a “red line” is crossed. This would be most unwelcome given the current state of Iraq and Afghanistan. So Washington has made a huge effort to make absolutely certain that no trouble develops in Asia—leading to an overreaction that is proving seriously counterproductive.

By publicly supporting the Chinese, we have put the spotlight unintentionally on our own policies, which are a welter of contradictions unlikely to withstand close scrutiny. We have never recognized Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan, even when we did recognize the Chiang Kai-shek government in Taiwan as the government of China. We expected, when we cut our relations with Chiang’s government, that Taipei’s then-autocratic rulers would cut a deal with Beijing and merge. But they did not; they went democratic, unexpectedly (not without some consternation on our part). We support independence referenda in states all around the world, and are pushing now for the independence of Kosovo from Serbia. We insist on peaceful resolution of issues between Taipei and Beijing, yet we sell weapons and share intelligence with the government of Taiwan, which we do not recognize. Our most important Asian allies, Japan in particular, have vital interests in Taiwan’s not coming under Chinese control. PRC forces there could easily cut vital shipping lanes for energy from the Middle East to Northeast Asia.

But even though we do not consider Taiwan to be part of China, we oppose the Taiwanese sharing this view or acting on it. All sorts of conflicts are latent here, but silence and circumspection have kept them reasonably quiet for nearly thirty years. Now a series of misplaced steps, designed to please China, seem set to push the whole situation towards exactly what we and they have been seeking to avoid: a clear-cut, democratic, and legal assertion of the rights of the Taiwanese to be members of the international community.

Read Less

“The Republic of China”

Reports are circulating this morning that Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte has taken the unusual step of publicly warning Taipei not to hold a referendum on whether to apply to the United Nations using the name “Taiwan.” This is very unusual: the State Department usually declines comment on such matters. The story is widely reported in official Chinese media, but the most thorough report comes from Charles Snyder and Ko Shu-ling in the Taipei Times:

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said that the bid to enter the world body under the name “Taiwan” would be a move to change the “status quo”. . . . The U.S. has signaled a major intensification of its campaign against President Chen Shui-bian’s plan for a referendum seeking membership in the UN under the name “Taiwan,” warning publicly for the first time that it sees the referendum as a move toward independence.

Snyder and Ko go on to quote Negroponte:

“I would recall that in the past President Chen has made commitments to the American president, to the international community, and to the people of Taiwan not to take any kind of steps that would represent a unilateral alteration of the status quo, such as a change in the official name of Taiwan,” Negroponte said.

But what is Taiwan’s “official name”? I consulted the CIA’s World Factbook: only “Taiwan” is listed. The Factbook entry follows the usage we have insisted on for decades, referring to the island only as Taiwan. But given that we use the name Taiwan, why would we object to the Taiwanese following our example?

Read More

Reports are circulating this morning that Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte has taken the unusual step of publicly warning Taipei not to hold a referendum on whether to apply to the United Nations using the name “Taiwan.” This is very unusual: the State Department usually declines comment on such matters. The story is widely reported in official Chinese media, but the most thorough report comes from Charles Snyder and Ko Shu-ling in the Taipei Times:

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said that the bid to enter the world body under the name “Taiwan” would be a move to change the “status quo”. . . . The U.S. has signaled a major intensification of its campaign against President Chen Shui-bian’s plan for a referendum seeking membership in the UN under the name “Taiwan,” warning publicly for the first time that it sees the referendum as a move toward independence.

Snyder and Ko go on to quote Negroponte:

“I would recall that in the past President Chen has made commitments to the American president, to the international community, and to the people of Taiwan not to take any kind of steps that would represent a unilateral alteration of the status quo, such as a change in the official name of Taiwan,” Negroponte said.

But what is Taiwan’s “official name”? I consulted the CIA’s World Factbook: only “Taiwan” is listed. The Factbook entry follows the usage we have insisted on for decades, referring to the island only as Taiwan. But given that we use the name Taiwan, why would we object to the Taiwanese following our example?

The answer is that Taiwan has, in fact, another name, “The Republic of China,” which was imposed on it when the troops of Chiang Kai-shek arrived in 1945. But after we broke off independent relations with Taiwan in 1979, we expunged “Republic of China” from all official usage—even from the World Factbook (which, curiously, does list “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” for North Korea, a country we do not recognize diplomatically).

Yet the name “Republic of China” has not really vanished: Negroponte was referring to it when he spoke of an “official name.” “The Republic of China” is the last, slender thread by which one can argue that Taiwan is somehow linked to China. Washington and Beijing do not want it to perish entirely—though they themselves publicly repudiate it. (Although Negroponte insists, indirectly, that the Taiwanese continue to use it, whether they like it or not. He even opposes a democratic referendum on the question.)

Our government takes this position, very much at odds with fundamental American beliefs about people and their rights, for one reason: pressure from China. If Beijing ended its diplomatic blockade of Taiwan, the United States would not continue it alone. Now, as Taiwan considers its application to the UN, it may be time for us to end that blockade without waiting for Beijing.

Read Less

Exporting Repression

Is it wrong to help authoritarian states repress their own citizens? Of course. But the question is rarely posed in Washington these days, which is what made last week’s hearing of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs so notable.

In a brief exchange, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a fiery Republican from Florida, questioned Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte about American exports of security-related articles and services to China for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Negroponte told her that the State Department is the lead agency in the American government for “supporting security for the Olympics,” and that there is a small task force in our embassy in Beijing working on this matter. He promised that in the future he would consult with the House committee, but said he knew nothing more about the issue.

Read More

Is it wrong to help authoritarian states repress their own citizens? Of course. But the question is rarely posed in Washington these days, which is what made last week’s hearing of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs so notable.

In a brief exchange, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a fiery Republican from Florida, questioned Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte about American exports of security-related articles and services to China for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Negroponte told her that the State Department is the lead agency in the American government for “supporting security for the Olympics,” and that there is a small task force in our embassy in Beijing working on this matter. He promised that in the future he would consult with the House committee, but said he knew nothing more about the issue.

Mr. Negroponte should have done his homework. For starters, legislation enacted in the wake of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre prohibits American companies from exporting crime-control or detection equipment to China. In other words, they cannot sell handcuffs, helmets, and shotguns. But the Commerce Department, which is supposed to enforce the sanctions, has gutted them by adopting a very narrow definition of security equipment. Police gear is out, but Oracle, Cisco, and Sybase are allowed to sell modern information technology that China needs to trace, track, and arrest drug dealers.

Representative Tom Lantos, the committee’s chairman, tried to draw a bright line between helping the Chinese prevent terrorist acts at the Olympic Games and contributing to the suppression of free speech by the Communist party. But that isn’t possible. If the U.S. helps Beijing track terrorists, it is also helping Beijing round up anyone else it pleases—not just drug dealers but dissidents and democracy activists too.

The U.S. does receive some benefit by cooperating on security matters with China. We win the right to screen American-bound containers on Chinese soil, get help in solving run-of-the-mill crimes, and obtain assistance in the global struggle against terrorists. Yet Beijing gets at least as much as it gives, especially in terms of help tracking down elements perceived as enemies by the regime.

The issues involved are complex, but Washington policymakers have not yet had honest conversations with the American people about the consequences of our assistance to China. As Representative Ros-Lehtinen suggests, the costs may end up being far too high.

Read Less