Taiwan Diplomats Get Little Recognition
Wednesday, July 11, 2007; 3:12 AM
WASHINGTON -- Joseph Wu is a diplomat without an embassy.
He cannot fly his flag from the bland office building that serves as his headquarters. His president is banned from visiting Washington, and Wu and his colleagues are barred from the State Department and White House. They meet senior administration officials in restaurants and coffee shops.
Wu does not represent an enemy of the United States. He is the chief diplomat for Taiwan, a vibrant self-governing island that the United States hints it would go to war to protect if nuclear-armed China attacked.
This is the bizarre lot of Taiwan's diplomats in Washington, where China, Taiwan's bitter rival in a long-simmering, unresolved civil war, passionately objects to anything that suggests official U.S. recognition of the island.
Taiwan is a major U.S. trading partner and a like-minded liberal democracy. But its representatives are prevented from enjoying the diplomatic prestige accorded even U.S. adversaries _ such as Syria and Sudan _ that maintain embassies in Washington.
"It frustrates us sometimes, because even though we function like a real embassy and I function like a real ambassador, I'm subject to different kinds of restrictions," Wu said in a recent interview.
The United States follows a "one China" policy that recognizes there is a single China and that self-ruled Taiwan is part of it. But Washington still encourages the sale of defensive weapons to Taiwan, and, in 2002, President Bush pledged to "help Taiwan defend itself if provoked."
Taiwanese diplomats working in the U.S. capital are constrained by internal U.S. guidelines laid out in 1979, when Washington switched its diplomatic allegiance from Taipei to Beijing. These guidelines are meant to allow for continued U.S. support of Taiwan, while appeasing China.
Many in Congress champion a lifting of the restrictions. But the Bush administration is wary of offending China, a growing economic and military power and a veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council.
Beijing carefully watches all moves Taiwan makes in Washington. China claims Taiwan as its own and has repeatedly threatened to attack should the island formalize its de facto independence; it opposes anything that appears to give Taiwan the trappings of sovereignty.
"They are trying to marginalize us," Wu said. "The Chinese government has been trying to corner Taiwan on every occasion, in every kind of incident they can."
Taiwan, in turn, often tests the boundaries.