Taiwan's Management of Relations with the United States During the First Chen Shui-bian Administration

Michael D. Swaine Report May 5, 2005
 
This report was prepared for a conference on the first Chen Shui-bian Administration, held in Annapolis Maryland in May 2005, and sponsored by Harvard University and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.
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This report was prepared for a conference on the first Chen Shui-bian Administration, held in Annapolis Maryland in May 2005, and sponsored by Harvard University and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.  During his first administration, Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian traversed the full spectrum of relations with the United States: from trusted democratic friend and quasi-ally with increasingly convergent views, to highly distrusted and disliked leader, viewed by Washington as potentially disruptive of some vital U.S. interests.  Shortly after entering office, President Chen received an unprecedented level of political---and military---support from the recently elected President George W. Bush.  At that time (2001-2002), Chen was regarded by Washington as an energetic democrat with strong support from the Taiwan public and a close, consultative and cooperative relationship with the White House (the last point was in contrast to his predecessor, Lee Teng-hui).  However, by the end of his first term in office, Chen was regarded by Bush as extremely untrustworthy and a potential source of significant new problems for a U.S. president preoccupied with Iraq, his reelection campaign, and the agenda for a prospective second term.

Such a radical reversal came about as a result of a combination of broad shifts in U.S. foreign policy priorities, domestic political forces in Taiwan, the inexperience and immaturity of the Chen Administration, and perhaps most importantly, a series of personal blunders by President Chen in respect to his management of relations with the White House, and with President Bush in particular.  Fundamentally, the mistakes of the first Chen Administration derived to a large extent from a misreading of the U.S. policy dynamic involving Taiwan.  Chen placed narrower, short-term domestic political calculations above those fundamental, enduring strategic imperatives that confront every Taiwan government---especially the imperative of maintaining reasonably close and cooperative relations with the U.S.

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