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Taiwan may end with Pyrrhic diplomatic victory

Written by: Staff

Taipei, May 14: Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian may have pulled off a diplomatic victory over China during his just concluded overseas trip, but it also laid bare the new realities of the island's once-warm relationship with Washington.

While Chen played down US refusal to let his plane refuel in New York, ties have frayed since the early days of George W Bush's presidency when Chen was allowed to transit in the US financial capital in 2001 and 2003 and the US leader pledged to do whatever it takes to help Taiwan defend itself.

''It'll be extremely challenging for relations between Taipei and Washington to improve'' during the remaining two years of Chen's presidency, said Lin Chong-Pin, president of the Foundation on International and Cross-Strait Studies think-tank.

However, the US snub appeared to be a blessing in disguise when Chen made surprise transit stopovers in Libya and Indonesia, which recognise Beijing but not Taipei.

The stops riled China, which claims Taiwan as its own and has tried to push it into isolation, and may help to bolster support for Chen, whose popularity rating hit new lows due to a string of corruption scandals.

It was also a boon for his Democratic Progressive Party, which is trying to find a candidate capable of defeating the popular Nationalist front-runner Ma Ying-jeou in the 2008 presidential elections.

But the victory may be Pyrrhic, analysts said, if relations with Taiwan's main arms supplier and trading partner were strained and Washington stepped up pressure to thwart his independence dreams.

''Taiwan is the loser in terms of relations with the United States. But Taiwan may be able to make up for some of the losses if the breakthroughs with Libya and Indonesia are for real,'' said Liu Bih-rong, a political scientist at Soochow University.

In an apparent slight, the United States offered to let Chen transit in remote Alaska or Hawaii this month instead of New York while on his way home from Latin America. Chen rejected the offer and was hailed a hero by some for standing up to Washington.

While Chen put on a brave face and tried to assure the public that the row with the United States would not impact bilateral relations, US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick appeared to harden parameters for ties.


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