|Neo-cons cry 'appeasement' over
By Jim Lobe
- In an extraordinary split with US President George W
Bush, a neo-conservative-dominated think-tank close to
administration hawks released a statement on Tuesday
afternoon accusing the president of "appeas(ing)" China
The statement by the Project for the
New American Century (PNAC) was released just a few
hours after Bush publicly chastised Taiwanese President
Chen Shui-bian for planning a referendum on whether to
ask Beijing to renounce the use of force against the
island and remove the almost 500 missiles pointed at it.
The proposed referendum is timed to take place on the
same day as the March 10 presidential elections in which
Chen hopes to be re-elected.
"We oppose any
unilateral decision by either China or Taiwan to change
the status quo, and the comments and actions made by the
leader of Taiwan indicate that he may be willing to make
decisions unilaterally to change the status quo, which
we oppose," Bush declared during a brief
question-and-answer period with reporters with visiting
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao seated next to him.
Analysts said Bush's statement did not reflect a
substantive change in US policy, but the directness -
some said brutality - with which it was expressed came
over as unexpectedly harsh, particularly his reference
to Chen as "the leader of Taiwan" rather than as
"president", a formulation that must have caused
considerable satisfaction to Wen. Indeed, the Chinese
premier expressed appreciation for Bush's words, as
noted by Chris Nelson, an Asia specialist who writes an
influential daily newsletter much read by US officials
and embassies from the region.
alumni include Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld among other senior
administration officials, reacted with outrage.
Its statement, signed by PNAC chairman and
Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, PNAC co-founder
Robert Kagan, and its executive director, Gary Schmitt,
assailed Bush for failing to address Beijing's missile
buildup and recent threats by senior defense officials
there to go to war if Taiwan, which China considers a
renegade province, takes additional steps toward
Questioning whether Chen's
proposed referendum was designed to change the status
quo, the three asked, "Can it be President Bush's
position that Taiwan is not permitted to hold any
democratic referenda on any subjects whatsoever?"
They then went on to attack Bush's statement as
a "mistake", adding the dreaded "A" word that
neo-conservatives have bludgeoned their worst political
opponents with for the past 30 years. "Appeasement of a
dictatorship simply invites further attempts at
intimidation," they wrote. "Standing with democratic
Taiwan would secure stability in East Asia. Seeming to
reward Beijing's bullying will not."
denunciation, which is unlikely to win them many friends
in the White House, caps a period of serious reverses
for the PNAC crowd over the past several months as the
situation in Iraq has deteriorated. As much as any
group's, PNAC's recommendations about how to wage the
war on terrorism post-September 11, 2001, had been taken
to heart by administration hawks, particularly in
Cheney's and Rumsfeld's offices. This began with an open
letter produced by the group on September 20, 2001,
which called for extending the anti-terrorism campaign
to Iraq, whether or not Baghdad had any role in the
September 11 attacks, and siding unequivocally with
Israel in its own "war on terrorism" against the
Palestinian Authority and Lebanon's Hezbollah.
Indeed, PNAC - or, more specifically, Kristol,
Kagan and Schmitt - have often acted as mouthpieces for
their friends in the administration, not only with
respect to the "war on terrorism", but also on China.
During the Hainan spy-plane incident in the spring of
2001, Kristol and Kagan, apparently reflecting the views
of their friends in Cheney's and Rumsfeld's offices,
repeatedly attacked Secretary of State Colin Powell for
his diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis with China
quietly and the final settlement that freed the US crew
a "national humiliation".
The three are also
closely associated with other prominent
neo-conservatives, such as former Defense Policy Board
chairman Richard Perle, whose offices are just five
floors above PNAC at the American Enterprise Institute
(AEI), and former Central Intelligence Agency chief
James Woolsey, as well as Cheney's powerful chief of
staff, I Lewis Libby, who was general counsel for the
Cox Commission that investigated alleged Chinese theft
of US military technology.
They have long argued
that China represents Washington's greatest long-term
threat and have supported Taiwan's independence. Another
staff member, Ellen Bork, has been one of Washington's
most outspoken defenders of Hong Kong and, among other
topics, used the pages of the Weekly Standard last year
for Israel to stop selling weapons to the People's
Liberation Army (PLA).
But in recent months, the
White House has been far less receptive to their
appeals. Their allies in the Pentagon appear to have
lost influence in Iraq itself, and their repeated calls
to increase the number of US troops there have been
rejected by both by the White House, which is
increasingly concerned about next year's election, and
Rumsfeld, whom they have also made a target.
Furthermore, they have deplored the State Department's
rising influence over US policy toward Iran, which their
AEI friends have also referred to as "appeasement".
They have also grown increasingly upset by
Bush's ever-closer relations to Beijing, particularly
his dropping of the word "rival" to describe the US
relationship with China and what they perceive as his
retreat from an April 2001 statement to do "whatever it
took to defend" Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.
Pro-Taiwan forces have charged that the
administration is sacrificing the island to what it
regards as more urgent priorities, primarily the "war on
terrorism" and the denuclearization of North Korea, not
to mention the mushrooming bilateral trade deficit, all
major items in the Bush-Wen meeting on Tuesday.
It is in this context that Chen's recent
maneuvers, which most China specialists here believe are
intended to gain him political support in advance of the
March election, have rocketed Taiwan to the top of the
bilateral agenda. To Chen's disappointment - as well as
that of PNAC and other anti-Beijing forces - the White
House clearly resents it.
Indeed, it was Kristol
and Schmitt who last week grabbed the capital's
attention by charging that the Asia director for the
National Security Council, James Moriarty, and Bush's
chief diplomat in Taipei, Douglas Paal, were
"engineering a dramatic and dangerous shift in American
policy toward Taiwan" opposed by both the State
Department and the Pentagon.
They alleged in a
public statement, whose charges were obligingly repeated
by the neo-conservative editorial page of the Wall
Street Journal, that the two men were urging Bush to
"declare, privately and perhaps publicly, that the
United States opposes Taiwan's independence" and to
"declare that it will not defend Taiwan if Beijing
launches a military attack on the island in response to
a 'provocation', ie, some action or statement by Taiwan
that Beijing determines moves in the direction of
It also disclosed that, as a
first step toward this policy shift, Moriarty traveled
secretly to Taipei "to deliver a stern warning against
holding any referendum on any subject. Now he wants the
administration to offer assurances to Premier Wen that
the United States will indeed oppose referenda in
Taiwan," they warned. "This means, in turn, that the
administration will effectively be agreeing with Beijing
that such referenda constitute a 'provocation'. So what
happens when Taiwan goes ahead and holds its referendum
this spring, as it surely will?" they asked.
Administration officials denied that any major
change in policy was intended, but that, yes, indeed,
Washington was worried that holding the referendum could
be considered a provocation to China, which was
precisely the message delivered by Moriarty to Chen.
Indeed, Bush asked explicitly that the referendum not
take place in a letter signed by Bush that Moriarty
delivered. And that was also the message that Bush
sought to deliver publicly on Tuesday.
more precisely by a senior administration official who
briefed reporters on Tuesday's talks, "Any referendum
that seems to be a political statement that begins
leading towards a ... unilateral attempt to change the
status quo causes us concern."
In response, Wen
aligned himself as closely to Bush as he could, noting
that while "stability can only be maintained through
unswerving opposition to pro-independence activities",
China remained committed to pursuing peaceful
reunification "as long as a glimmer of hope" exists. He
even noted that "the Chinese government respects the
desire of the people in Taiwan for democracy", but went
on to accuse Chen of "only using democracy as an excuse
and attempt to resort to defensive referendums to split
Taiwan from China [which] ... the Chinese side can
absolutely not accept".
To many analysts, it
appeared that Chen, who early on Wednesday reportedly
reiterated his intention to go ahead with the
referendum, emerged as the big loser on Tuesday. "The
impression one gets is that he is not managing
cross-Strait or US relations very effectively at the
moment," said Alan Romberg, a former high-ranking State
Department Asia specialist who has just published a book
on the history of official US-China-Taiwan relations
called Rein In at the Brink of the Precipice.
"No one is thrilled about [China's] missile
buildup, but over the last several months, an objective
observer would have to say that Beijing has acted with
restraint in light of all that's been happening in
Taiwan," he said. "But that restraint is somewhat at
risk, and the judgment at the White House was that point
was being approached. When a low-key private approach
[to Chen] doesn't work, this is what you get."
But this latest episode may also fuel the White
House's unhappiness with the neo-conservatives.
First, the allegations of a conspiracy by
Moriarty and Paal appear highly doubtful at this point,
and the speed with which they were prepared to spread
the charges "showed a certain recklessness", according
to one official. Paal is considered particularly well
connected politically and widely respected on Capitol
Hill, where sympathy for Taiwan is especially strong.
Second, while the general consensus here and
apparently in the White House, too, is that Chen's
recent maneuvers were responsible for the growing
cross-Strait tensions, Kristol, Kagan and Schmitt had a
contrary view, depicting the latest crisis as China's
"Here is what happened over the
last month," they wrote. "The government of Taiwan
proceeded about its democratic business in a legal and
appropriate manner that threatened no one. The
government of China decided to throw a fit to see if it
could take advantage of US preoccupation with Iraq and
North Korea to tilt US policy against Taiwan. And the US
government decided to at least partly appease Beijing."
Not only does this analysis contradict the White
House's view; it also accuses the US president once
again of the dreaded "A" word that is normally reserved
for liberal Democrats and France.
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