US - Taiwan

U.S.-Taiwan relations over the four years of Chen Shui-bian’s first term shifted unevenly between commitment and crisis. The Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) rise to power initially frightened U.S. policymakers, who feared the radicalism of a party long identified with independence.  They discovered that Chen could be pragmatic and willing to accept guidance from the U.S. Under both the Clinton and Bush administrations, Taiwan accordingly received significant support for reform and expansion of its military capabilities; support which sometimes exceeded what the DPP and the Taiwan military were prepared to accept. With the advent of the Bush administration, Taiwan enjoyed an era of unprecedented friendship in Washington, experiencing policies that accorded it more respect and dignity as well as greater access and a higher profile.  Chen, however, pushed the limits by taking several initiatives considered provocative by China and the U.S. without prior consultation with his U.S. supporters.  The result has been anger and friction with uncertain implications for the future.

The election of Chen Shui-bian as president of Taiwan in March 2000 brought the decades-old Kuomintang (KMT) monopoly of power on the island to an end. This peaceful transition from one political party to another signified passage of an important milestone in the achievement of full democracy and was greeted with enthusiasm in the United States. Washington’s pleasure with the growth of democratic institutions, however, was offset somewhat with trepidation as to what a DPP presidency would mean for peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. Thus the U.S. encouraged and warmly welcomed Chen’s inaugural address in which he pledged his four “No’s” and one “Would-Not”: no declaration of independence, no change in the name of the government, no placing the two-state theory in the constitution, and no referendum on self-determination.  At the same time, he would not eliminate the National Unification Council and Guidelines. Indeed in the weeks before the inauguration, Chen persuaded Taiwan supporters in the U.S. Congress to put aside plans to press for passage of the controversial Taiwan Security Enhancement Act. Generally, he sought to broadcast a moderate image abroad and at home as a pragmatic, conciliatory lawyer rather than a pro-independence firebrand. Members of the Clinton administration, who had found the final months of Lee Teng-hui’s presidency alarming and difficult, began to relax.

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