Neocons Refocus on China

It’s easy to forget that in the early days of the Bush presidency, the neocons were lambasting President Bush for visiting a “national humiliation” on the United States in the form of his handling of the EP-3 crash off the coast of China. It actually wasn’t that humiliating, particularly in comparison to the neocons’ own pet project, but it was a stark reflection of their overarching “bring ‘em on” attitude toward dealing with the world.

There have been signs lately that neoconservative energies have once again been focused on encouraging increased politico-military ties between the US and Taiwan and poisoning the US-China relationship. Gary Schmitt today takes to the pages of the Washington Post to ring the alarm bells about China, but more notably, Therese Shaheen, an AEI adjunct fellow, former head of the US non-embassy embassy in Taiwan, and wife of Rumsfeld flack Larry di Rita, writes in the Asian Wall Street Journal wondering why the U.S. is ignoring Taiwan. (sub. req’d)

Lest anyone think that the fact that the Taiwan issue has been off the radar screen lately is a good sign, here is what Jeff Stein of Congressional Quarterly had to report about back channel discussions between the U.S. and Taiwan, some of which involved Ms. Shaheen:

Lawrence B. Wilkerson, the U.S. Army colonel who was Powell’s chief of staff through two administrations, said in little-noted remarks early last month that “neocons” in the top rungs of the administration quietly encouraged Taiwanese politicians to move toward a declaration of independence from mainland China…

The top U.S. diplomat in Taiwan at the time, Douglas Paal, backs up Wilkerson’s account…

[One] key character in the minidrama was Therese Shaheen, the outspoken chief of the U.S. office of the American Institute in Taiwan, which took on the functions of the American embassy after the formal 1979 diplomatic switch.

Shaheen, who happens to be DiRita’s wife, openly championed Chen and the independence movement, at one point even publicly reinterpreting Bush’s reiteration of the “one China” policy, saying that the administration “had never said it ‘opposed’ Taiwan independence,” according to a 2004 account in the authoritative Far Eastern Economic Review.

“Therese Shaheen … said don’t sweat it, the president didn’t really mean what he said,” Wilkerson said…

Douglas Paal was then head of the American Institute in Taiwan, effectively making him the U.S. ambassador there. He backed up Wilkerson’s account.

“In the early years of the Bush administration,” Paal said by e-mail last week, “there was a problem with mixed signals to Taiwan from Washington. This was most notably captured in the statements and actions of Ms. Therese Shaheen, the former AIT chair, which ultimately led to her departure.”

Now retired, Paal said he, too, “received many first- and second-hand reports of messages conveyed to Taiwan by DoD civilians and perhaps a uniformed officer or two during that time that were out of sync with President Bush’s position.”

If you think the “long, hard slog” in Iraq is swell, wait until there’s a shooting war in the Taiwan Strait.