Taiwan is just a 'little woman' to Washington

Taipei Times, 15.01.2015

Taiwan is just a ‘little woman’ to Washington
By James Wang 王景弘

People who know former representative to the US Shen Lyu-shun (沈呂巡) know him to be quite a pugnacious character — not one to shy away from a fight. A recent controversy over the New Year’s Day raising of the Republic of China (ROC) flag at Twin Oaks Estate — home of Taiwan’s de facto embassy in Washington — had him spitting bullets, complaining in rather colorful language not typically heard in diplomatic situations that Taiwan is not someone else’s “little woman.”

That was brave, but he seems to have forgotten that, for as long as President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has been alive, the ROC has been precisely that for the US, and has had to just grin and bear it for the past 65 years.

Some Taiwanese are of the generation that was with former president Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) when he was making wild claims about how he would “retake the mainland.” We did not know that the US had cautioned Chiang that if he mounted an attack on China, he would first have to secure Washington’s agreement.

When Walter McConaughy retired as the US’ ambassador to the ROC in 1974, Leonard Unger stepped up, but by that time, then-Taiwanese ambassador to the US James Shen (沈劍虹) — the nation’s last US ambassador before Washington switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing in 1979 — was a spent force. Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger refused to see Shen, so Taipei selected then-minister of foreign affairs Chow Shu-kai (周書楷) to succeed him, but Washington rejected the application, which was returned in its original envelope.

In 1979, former president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) sent Frederick Chien (錢復), then the Ministry’s of Foreign Affairs’ director-general of the Department of North American Affairs, to Washington seeking new bilateral relations, but the US requested that then-deputy minister of foreign affairs Yang Hsi-kun (楊西崑) attend the talks instead.

While Chiang wanted to send Chien to become the nation’s first representative to the US, his choice was rejected and there was nothing Chiang could do except swallow his pride.

Chien did assume the role — in the 1980s. At the time, he said that if one wanted something done, they first had to talk to David Dean, who became director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) toward the end of Chien’s tenure as representative. If Dean says it is OK, then go ahead, but if he shakes his head, just forget it, Chien added.

This was why Chien, as minister of foreign affairs, objected to former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) visiting the US. Lee did not play the “little woman” on his visit, but he did sacrifice then-representative to the US Benjamin Lu (魯肇忠).

Diplomacy and foreign relations should be founded upon equality, reciprocity, sovereignty and respect; nobody wants to be treated as the “little woman.” However, the ROC finds itself in “different” circumstances and has been playing this role with the US for as long as most Taiwanese can remember, and in every way — even beyond diplomacy. Since Taiwan wants to exist as an independent nation and does not want to be annexed, it has to rely on unilateral assurances from the US.

Some say that Taiwan should demand reciprocity for the US flag flying at the AIT office in Taipei. However, if Taipei were to insist on reciprocity and the US flag were lowered, it would be akin to throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Shen’s forceful language pleased certain pan-blue supporters; it is a shame that he was appointed to that role. Perhaps he would have been more entertaining as Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) secretary-general, applying his talents to bashing the Democratic Progressive Party.

James Wang is a media commentator.
Translated by Paul Cooper