TAIPEI U.S. Republican presidential candidate
John McCain would seek to defend Taiwan and play hard ball with
China if he comes to office, but Democratic front-runner Barack
Obama would further sideline Taipei as he courts Beijing.
Analysts say neither candidate would radically change
today's status quo, but the former Vietnam War U.S. Navy pilot
McCain is seen favoring Taiwan, which is struggling for an
China has claimed sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan since
the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949. Beijing has vowed to
bring the island back under mainland rule, by force if
necessary, but relations have improved since the inauguration
of Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou in May.
The United States switched diplomatic recognition from
Taiwan to China in 1979, recognizing "one China," but remains
the island's biggest ally and arms supplier. Taiwan is
recognized by only 23 countries compared with about 170
recognizing permanent U.N. Security Council member China.
Like current President George W. Bush, Obama proposes
working with China on economic and security goals while pushing
Taipei and Beijing to settle their differences peacefully.
"People in Taiwan tend to think McCain takes a rather
conservative view toward China and his war veteran image
appeals to them," said Joseph Cheng, a political science
professor at City University of Hong Kong.
Individual candidates aside, recent U.S. administrations
have tried to improve their relations with former Cold War
enemy China to get a share of its booming markets.
China is also an important voice in the current global
credit crisis, an ally in the fight against terrorism and host
of talks trying to rein in North Korea's nuclear program.
STRIKING A BALANCE
Obama, 47, and McCain, 72, have talked up China and Taiwan
throughout their campaigns as they vie to replace Bush after
eight years, during which Washington focused more heavily on
the Middle East.
"Obama is not somebody who divides the world into us versus
them," the candidate's Asia policy adviser, Evan Medeiros, told
reporters in Taipei in mid-October. "Getting U.S. relations
with China right is part of that effort."
McCain has said he would approve future arms sales to
Taiwan, a topic that draws Beijing's ire, including a
controversial F-16 jet fighter package. Obama has been less
explicit but Medeiros said he had not ruled out specific arms
Taiwan, McCain believes, deserves "meaningful
participation" in the World Health Organization and other
international bodies dominated by China allies, which have
blocked the island for decades, his foreign policy adviser
Randy Schriver said.
"What is the obstacle? It's China," Schriver told a video
conference. "Sometimes, if a cause is worthy enough, you have
to stand up despite China's objections."
McCain has blasted Beijing over transparency, export safety
and monetary policies, while Obama has said he would go tough
on China over international trade disputes.
But neither candidate is seen jeopardizing U.S. diplomatic
relations with Beijing or strong informal U.S. ties with
"My sense is that there wouldn't be much difference," said
Alex Chiang, associate professor of diplomacy at National
Chengchi University in Taipei.
Just in case, Taiwan's foreign ministry plans to contact
either winner before his inauguration in January to put
Taiwan's agenda on the table early, a ministry official said.
"It's hard to predict what a McCain or Obama administration
will do," said Derek Mitchell, Asia director at the Center for
Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.
Still, he said, "McCain and his people have more of a
record on Taiwan."
(Additional reporting by Paul Eckert in Washington)
(Editing by Nick Macfie and Bill Tarrant)