INDEPENDENT NEWS

Cablegate: Media Reaction: U.S. Beef Imports

Published: Tue 5 Jan 2010 09:57 AM
VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB
DE RUEHIN #0013/01 0050957
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 050957Z JAN 10
FM AIT TAIPEI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3055
INFO RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 9600
RUEHHK/AMCONSUL HONG KONG 0987
UNCLAS AIT TAIPEI 000013
SIPDIS
DEPARTMENT FOR INR/R/MR, EAP/TC, EAP/P, EAP/PD - THOMAS HAMM
DEPARTMENT PASS AIT/WASHINGTON
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: OPRC KMDR KPAO TW
SUBJECT: MEDIA REACTION: U.S. BEEF IMPORTS
1. Summary: Taiwan's major Chinese-language dailies focused news
coverage January 1-4 on the New Year celebrations; on the
controversy over the U.S. beef issue and the discussions in the
Legislative Yuan over amendments to the law concerning U.S. beef
imports; and on cross-Strait relations.
2. Many editorials and commentaries continued to focus on the
controversy over U.S. beef imports. A column and two op-ed pieces
in the pro-independence "Liberty Times" continued to lambast the Ma
administration for opening Taiwan to imports of U.S. beef and beef
products. One op-ed said a referendum on U.S. beef imports will be
the only way that the Ma administration can resolve the controversy.
An editorial in the mass-circulation "Apple Daily" said the U.S.
beef issue must not be turned into a tool to be used by the Ma
administration, the U.S. government or the arms dealers to
intimidate the Taiwan people, as the consequences will be
unfavorable for both Taiwan and the United States. Editorials in
the English-language "Taipei Times," "China Post," and "Taiwan News"
all discussed the U.S. beef issue and said no one is winner in the
"beef war." End summary.
A) "Dreading China and Fearing the United States? Taiwan Has Become
an Insignificant Person to Blame"
Washington correspondent Nadia Tsao wrote in the "Focus Commentary"
column in the pro-independence "Liberty Times" [circulation:
680,000] (1/1):
"... There are psychological and political factors behind Taiwan's
opposition to expanded imports of U.S. beef, yet the United States'
disappointment and anger [toward Taiwan's moves to bar the import of
certain U.S. beef products] are also reasonable and understandable.
But Taiwan officials' threatening [remarks] citing the visa-waiver
program, talks over the Free Trade Agreement and arms sales as
possible U.S. retaliatory means are nothing but foolish
interpretations lacking common sense in diplomacy. ... President Ma
Ying-jeou said not long ago that U.S.-Taiwan relations are in their
best state over the past six decades. How come a [simple] beef
dispute would turn Washington into some country like crazy
Pyongyang? It is true that Taiwan's failure to adhere to the
[U.S.-Taiwan beef] deal will damage the bilateral relationship,
particularly that with those U.S. congressmen who represent the
agriculturally-oriented states and are friendly with Taiwan. Taiwan
needs to communicate with the United States in an attempt to uncover
solutions that are acceptable for both sides. But the Ma
administration should stop 'bragging' when handling foreign
relations and should stick to the facts. U.S.-Taiwan relations have
always been complicated, so disputes and differences are
unavoidable. Conflicts provide the [best] moments for both sides to
test the strength of their relations and [their] crisis management
ability."
B) "Ma Must No Longer Remain Stubborn over the Referendum on U.S.
Beef [Imports]"
Bill Chang, a consultative member in the Taiwan Thinktank, opined in
the pro-independence "Liberty Times" [circulation: 680,000] (1/2):
"... As it stands now, [holding] a referendum [on U.S. beef imports]
will be the only way that the Ma administration can resolve the
issue and explain its position to the United States. If the
referendum is passed against the import of U.S. beef, no one can say
anything against it, and President Ma does not have to carry the
burden of being a party chairman unable to command the party's
legislators. Even if the United States decides to retaliate against
Taiwan over the referendum results, the responsibility will not fall
on President Ma, because it is a popular vote. With such an
approach, perhaps it will be easier to convince Washington and
alleviate the pressure from the United States. ... If the
referendum fails to pass, it will give the Legislative Yuan room to
modify its resolution. Now it all depends on whether President Ma
has the guts to hold the referendum."
C) "U.S. Beef Issue Exposes Fragility of Taiwan-U.S. Relations"
Liu Shih-chung, now a Visiting Fellow at the U.S.-based Brookings
Institution, opined in the pro-independence "Liberty Times"
[circulation 680,000] (1/3):
"The seemingly improved Taiwan-U.S. relations since the Ma Ying-jeou
administration assumed office have [changed to the extent that] they
may possibly endanger the progress on other issues that both sides
have been working on. [This is] due to the Ma administration's lack
of transparency during the policy-making process in opening Taiwan's
market to U.S. beef, offal and ground beef and its sending the wrong
message to Washington. ...What [National Security Council
Secretary-General] Su Chi failed to explain clearly to the Obama
administration was Ma's declining approval rate in Taiwan and the
Taiwan people's impatience with the Ma administration's black-box
[policy-making] operation model. Over the past few months, the
dilemma facing the Ma administration since Typhoon Morakot, the
legislative by-election in Yunlin County, the KMT's defeat in the
December three-in-one local elections, and a series of subtle
changes in Taiwan's politics have all added [up] to have a critical
impact on the decision to allow the import of U.S. beef. ...
"The Taiwan people want to ask the Ma administration: In contrast
to the ups and downs in Taiwan-U.S. relations under the previous DPP
administration, which twice announced the opening to imports of U.S.
beef (with beef offal and ground beef excluded), how come the Ma
administration, which brags that Taiwan-U.S. relations have never
been better, was unable to stick to the bottom line like the DPP
administration and, further, abandoned the defense of beef offal and
ground beef? The idea that the U.S. beef issue is just a single
accident, which will not affect the progress of other issues Taiwan
and the United States have been working on, underestimates the
fragility of Taiwan-U.S. relations. The Ma administration, since it
assumed office, has been doing all it can to curry favor with
Washington, and, as a result, it naturally deserves more immediate
policy returns in exchange. But the fact is just the opposite --
Taiwan lost even more bargaining chips and strength.
"The Pentagon's and National Security Council's proposed reports on
arms sales to Taiwan originally sat on Obama's desk, but the sudden
changes in the U.S. beef issue would surely result in the U.S. trade
agencies making proposals to the White House, which are unfavorable
for Taiwan. Perhaps the State Department is now mapping out its
retaliation list against Taiwan, and the gifts of arms deals for the
Ma administration, which were originally planned to be offered
before the Lunar New Year, will likely be halted; key figures in the
trade agencies, who originally planned to visit Taiwan, will likely
cancel [their trips.] Ma should be ready to offer a good
explanation to the United States when he transits the West Coast of
the United States at the end of January."
D) "Who Is Intimidating Taiwan?"
The mass-circulation "Apple Daily" [circulation: 520,000]
editorialized (1/4):
"... There are plenty of tools in the U.S. diplomatic toolbox, which
Washington can easily grab to deal with Taiwan, such as adjustments
in high-level visits, treatment for the Taiwan president when
transiting the United States, the decision over whether to help
Taiwan participate in international organizations where statehood is
not a requirement, including Taiwan in the trade dumping list,
stopping or slowing down the Taiwan-U.S. Trade and Investment
Framework talks. It doesn't even have to get to the security level.
But if Washington treats Taiwan as a target for threatening and
retaliation, such as stopping its arms sales to Taiwan, or keeping a
hands-off attitude toward the 'Taiwan Relations Act (TRA),' or
gradually push for the abolishment of the TRA, this will not only
harm the bilateral interests of Taiwan and the United States in East
Asia but will also incite Taiwan's nationalism to the extent of
pushing the island to declare independence or [seek] unification
with China out of desperation. ... None of these will serve the
United States' interests. As a result, the U.S. beef issue must not
turn into a tool used by the Ma administration, the U.S.
administration or the arms dealers to intimidate the Taiwan people,
as the consequences will be unfavorable for both Taiwan and the
United States."
E) "Beef Spat Mustn't Harm US Relations"
The pro-independence, English-language "Taipei Times" [circulation:
30,000] editorialized (1/4):
"The controversy over imports of US beef is a typical example of a
storm in a tea cup. Thanks to the government's neglect of public
opinion, inability to implement party discipline and persuade the
legislature, what was originally one of many items on the US-Taiwan
trade talk agenda has created a backlash and prompted a strongly
worded US statement warning Taiwan not to break the agreement.
US-Taiwan tensions have now developed into a full-blown political
storm. Taiwan still hasn't made a final decision on the issue, nor
has the US decided how to respond, but the administration of
President Ma Ying-jeou has made several guesses at what the US
measures might be. These include delaying a bilateral trade and
investment framework agreement, delaying an arms deal and suspending
talks about visa exemptions for Republic of China citizens. The
situation has caused the government to fear changes to the Taiwan-US
strategic relationship.
"Although the legislature is planning to amend the Act Governing
Food Sanitation to ban the importation of US beef innards and
ground beef, this only makes up a small part of US beef imports. It
will have a minor impact on import volumes and value, but could help
improve public acceptance of US beef, which is a lot better than
possible boycotts and stagnant sales because of quality concerns and
consumer fears. The US government should take a hard look at what is
the better alternative for US beef farmers. ... The beef
controversy must not be allowed to affect the US-Taiwan alliance and
Washington should consider the wisdom of pushing Taiwan, an
important strategic bargaining chip for the US, closer toward a
China that is about to become a great power."
F) "Beef Debacle Is Ma's Opportunity"
The pro-independence, English-language "Taipei Times" [circulation:
30,000] editorialized (1/1):
"...The US has now issued a strong response. Failure to resolve the
issue might have an impact on - Taiwan-US trade and economic ties,
visa exemptions for Taiwanese and possibly, in some way, more
serious concerns such as defense. The Chinese Nationalist Party
(KMT) may hold three-quarters of all legislative seats, but the
outcome of legislative negotiations has resulted in stronger
controls on US beef imports, overturning the original protocol. This
is tantamount to rebellion and means the legislature is drawing a
line in the sand, while also dealing Su a sucker punch. However,
President Ma Ying-jeou will suffer most - with the situation
spinning out of control, his authority as a leader will be dealt a
severe blow. Ma pays a great deal of attention to his image and
stresses the importance of communication and compromise, but shows a
glaring lack of skill in both. ...
"The US beef issue has resulted in a huge political hiccup, but Su's
highhanded manner is causing widespread discontent, even within the
blue camp. When the government gave the green light to US beef
imports, Minister of Health Yaung Chih-liang almost resigned. The
legislature was not informed in advance, was not consulted during
negotiations, and after the signing, was required to support the
decision. Neither the opposition nor the pan-blue camp was willing
to endorse the protocol and once the public protested, they went on
the attack. Had the NSC conducted a comprehensive assessment prior
to its decision, it would have produced a report to persuade the
public and legislature and allay concerns. The decision to fully
relax restrictions on US beef imports was not based on an expert
assessment, which highlights the NSC's incompetence. The controversy
is a longstanding one and if Su was not aware of its seriousness,
then he was negligent. ... The government's weak response to Typhoon
Morakot was a wake-up call for Ma after his presidential election
victory, while the KMT setback in recent local elections created a
sense of urgency. This is the chance Ma needs to carry out
wide-scale party reform. The legislature has moved against the beef
protocol and Ma has lost face at home and abroad. The only way for
him to turn things around is to learn his lessons. Otherwise,
cross-strait talks on an economic pact with China will prove to be
another disaster."
G) "Everybody Is a Loser in the 'Beef War'"
The conservative, pro-unification, English-language "China Post"
[circulation: 30,000] editorialized (1/1):
"Lawmakers are getting ready to vote on and pass an amendment to the
Food Sanitation Act next Tuesday to ban ground beef and bovine offal
imports from the United States. But that isn't going to end the beef
war across the Pacific, and everybody loses in the fight over the
issue which shouldn't be an issue in the first place. ... The
government is the biggest loser in the ongoing war. President Ma
Ying-jeou is sending a delegation to Washington to mend fences after
the U.S. government expressed deep concern over the expected passage
of the amendment to the act. ... The warning is being heeded, of
course. But the damage has been done. There is no way to prevent the
railroading of the amendment albeit Ma's Kuomintang (KMT) controls a
virtual three-fourths majority in the Legislative Yuan. The
Americans are losing the beef war because they started it at the
wrong time. Negotiations for the protocol had gone on for two years
and there was no reason whatsoever for Washington not to wait
another month or so to conclude it with Taipei after Taiwan's
all-important local elections were over. The opposition Democratic
Progressive Party (DPP), champing at the bit to win the elections on
Dec. 5 in order to prove it is beginning to claw back to power,
jumped at the godsend opportunity to turn a non-issue into an issue
of "life or death" of the people, about whose well-being they claim
the KMT government simply cares less. It's a non-issue because by
far the great majority of people in Taiwan do not eat beef and they
do not care whether bovine products are imported or not from
anywhere in the world. Younger people take to hamburgers, but they
can choose those made from ground beef imported from countries other
than the U.S. The protocol does not compel the government to force
the beef-lovers to consume American steaks.
The fence-mending isn't likely to work. The administration is
bracing for retaliation after it failed to avert the crisis by
convincing the doubtful people that U.S. ground beef and offal are
safe to eat. ... Ma's loss is just as serious. ... The people of
Taiwan also lose. They appear as unreasonable supporters of
narrow-minded political agitators who are accusing the U.S. of
attempting to bully Taiwan into buying unwanted beef products. Their
image as friends of the U.S. is tarnished. Once tarnished, it's very
hard to burnish. If trade between Taiwan and the U.S. dwindles as a
result of the beef war, all the people of Taiwan will equally suffer
the consequence. And the chief culprit is the legislative branch of
the government. Lawmakers have sacrificed Taiwan's credibility as a
trustworthy trading partner the world over by flexing their muscles
to get even with what they believe is the clumsy but arrogant
administration. What price their demonstration of power!"
H) "U.S. Should Understand Taiwan's Beef Stand"
The pro-independence, English-language "Taiwan News" [circulation:
20,000] editorialized (1/4):
"United States government officials have expressed exasperation over
why Taiwan's Legislative Yuan may revise the Food Sanitation Act
Tuesday to ban imports of U.S. ground beef, offals or even beef in
bone. Senior officials of President Ma Ying-jeou's right-wing
Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) government have publically
speculated that U.S. President Barack Obama's Democratic Party
administration will retaliate against Taiwan's alleged 'unilateral
abrogation' of the protocol signed Oct. 22 by Taiwan Economic and
Culture Representative Office and American Institute in Taiwan to
reopen imports of these risky US beef through delaying talks on a
long-expected U.S.-Taiwan Trade and Investment Framework Agreement
(TIFA) or even by further delays in defensive arms sales. Such
ill-disguised threats aim to blur the truth that this fiasco has
been caused solely by the hubris and incompetence of President Ma
Ying-jeou's right-wing Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) and
its refusal to respect Taiwan's democratic values of transparency
and accountability in the negotiation of this secret pact. ...
"Nevertheless, the U.S. government should react to the Legislative
Yuan's action cautiously based on mutual respect for democratic
procedures. Washington should refrain from pretending that the BSE
concerns are a 'false issue' or using the TIFA talks or defensive
arms sales to pressure the Taiwan legislature to accept a secret
protocol, whose full content remains unknown even to KMT lawmakers.
Instead, the Obama administration should convene an inter-agency
meeting to consider methods to resolve the flap, preferably through
renegotiation with the Taiwan government in a manner consistent with
democratic procedures. For its part, the Ma administration should
work to prevent any broader impact on other aspects of U.S.-Taiwan
relations.
"Ma has publically claimed that his efforts to forge peace and
dialogue with the PRC regime has also led to the 'best U.S.-Taiwan
relations for the past 60 years.' If this is the case, Ma's KMT
administration should have accumulated enough political capital to
persuade Washington not to make any unfriendly gestures toward
Taiwan and to renegotiate the pact. We strongly urge the Ma
government to stand upright in talks with U.S. counterparts and
refrain from repeating the mistake of carrying out such talks behind
the backs of Taiwan lawmakers and citizens and instead publically
affirm his commitment to reflect Taiwan's pluralist views in new
beef import talks. Most importantly, Ma should demonstrate his
sincerity to correct his mistakes by requiring Su to resign to take
full political responsibility. ... What Taiwan needs now is a
national security advisor who respects Taiwan's democratic values
and principles."
STANTON
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