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Ally Chastens Bush Over Taiwan Outburst

April 29, 2001|CHALMERS JOHNSON | Chalmers Johnson is the president of the Japan Policy Research Institute, a nonprofit educational organization located in Cardiff, Calif

President Bush's loose-lipped pledge to defend Taiwan has not only set back two decades of hard-earned progress in China-U.S. relations, but it also may have begun to unravel our ties with the other superpower of the Pacific, Japan. In addition to antagonizing China, the U.S. has frightened Japan, its main ally, and alarmed the citizens of the country it's claiming to defend, Taiwan.

Japan has just brought to power a new insurgent leadership of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in an attempt to overcome a deep popular hostility to the LDP. The most startling and important appointment that the new prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, has made is Makiko Tanaka, probably the most popular politician in the country, as foreign minister. Tanaka is one of five women in the new reform-minded cabinet.

In her first interview with reporters on Friday, Tanaka said, "On the issues between China and Taiwan, the international community should not try to stir things up maliciously but watch calmly."

As if in response to Bush's statements that he would do "whatever it took to help Taiwan defend herself" and that deploying the U.S. military was "certainly an option," Tanaka indicated that Japan may not be open to helping the U.S. "I believe that we are in a situation where we should review Japan's security role and the status of U.S. troops in Japan," she said.

Although neither Koizumi nor Tanaka appear to have any intention of weakening Japan's alliance with the United States, Tanaka's views--which could well be interpreted as reflecting the position being staked out by the new prime minister--certainly are responsive to the feelings of the people of Okinawa, where the United States' 38 military bases have long been an irritant.

Japan's reluctance to get between the U.S. and China over Taiwan is not a reflection of the Japan's long-standing pacificism. Japan's new leaders have, in fact, been expressing stronger nationalism as well as a growing irritation with Bush's unilateralism and indifference to the opinions of U.S. allies. Koizumi, in his first major press conference on Friday, said that Japan's official policy of unarmed neutrality "is an irresponsible stance to take for a nation." He called for reform of his country's Constitution to make explicit that Japan is rearmed and that the so-called Self-Defense Forces are fully legal.

Tanaka, 57, is the only daughter of the late Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka, the legendary builder of the country's ruling political machine. Her father's decisive recognition of China in 1972 makes him as honored in Beijing as Richard Nixon and gives Makiko Tanaka an important cache with the Chinese leadership.

President Bush's government is conspicuous for its lack of any kind of expertise on China. In 1997, when Vice President Dick Cheney was a member of the board of directors of Morgan Stanley, he was quoted as saying, "I do not really perceive any threat from China to the world or the region."

On the other hand, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) has been doing everything in his power to exacerbate the Chinese threat to Taiwan so that the United States will sell the Taiwanese Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, which are manufactured at the Litton-Ingalls' shipyard in Lott's hometown of Pascagoula, Miss. Litton Industries, now part of Northrop-Grumman, is one of Lott's top 10 contributors.

In Taiwan, there is growing resistance to Bush's brinkmanship. Some 40% of Taipei's foreign investment is in China, and a recent poll released by the island's Unification Ministry showed that a quarter of Taiwanese now favor unification with China, up from about a fifth a year ago. Former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui postponed his planned visit to the United States in order not to further aggravate Beijing. Taiwanese tourists now flood mainland China, and many graduate students from Taiwan are enrolled in Beijing's universities.

Bush is isolating the United States from its friends and giving it the reputation of a warmonger in East Asia. For example, his offer to sell Taiwan diesel-powered submarines has backfired because he can't deliver on the offer. The U.S. no longer makes these submarines, and Germany, Holland and Sweden--which the U.S. could license to make them--have refused to do so.

After Bush's endorsement of our use of force in the Taiwan Strait, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said, "Taiwan is a part of China, not a protectorate of any foreign country."

Bush may not know much about the world, but let's assume he knows some U.S. history.

When, in 1861, seven U.S. states seceded from the Union, Abraham Lincoln instantly called for troops to be used against them, leading to the most traumatic event in American history, the Civil War. For 30 years U.S. diplomacy has been devoted to avoiding a similar unilateral declaration of independence by Taiwan. This is what President Bush threw away with his macho outburst.

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