In the beginning, I befriended the Independence Party candidate, Chen Shui-bian, and his dedicated supporters. Before and after he became president I vouched for him on the Mainland and tried to jump-start a dialogue. I was convinced then, and now, that he was entirely sincere in trying to work something out.
His election presented a major problem for Beijing, and there was a real risk of war—war that would certainly have involved the United States. In retrospect, I would certainly do all over again what I did and said to stabilize the situation.
One month after his election, Chen Shui-bian tried hard to accept the minimum conditions of Beijing for dialogue—only to find that his hard-core supporters in the DPP would not permit it. Ten hours later, he was forced to withdraw this acceptance. This was a tragedy for dialogue and for the DPP.
For the next 25 months—including six country visits to Taiwan and the Mainland—I brainstormed and looked for some way out. Some of the proposals I came up with may seem impractical, especially to experts. But I am proud to have tried to find an opening. And when Zhou Mingwei called me "sui generis" because others brought dialogue while I brought briefing papers and concrete proposals, I felt ennobled and, in some ways, more professional than the former Government official professionals.
The third phase of my relations with Taiwan began in August 2002, when Chen Shui-bian decided to adopt a two-states theory. Because peace in the strait was my overwhelming priority, this forced me into opposition, and I began trying to figure out how to give Beijing enough assurance to prevent the political situation in Beijing from getting out of control and the military being given the authority to harass or attack Taiwan. The reader will examine the proposals made and reach his or her own conclusion as to the quality of the work.
Finally, in the fourth phase, I came across Taiwan’s exploratory committee to discuss the feasibility of nuclear weapons. I was clearly the first to notify the White House and, also, the first to bring back, from Taiwan, confirmation of my warning. And I worked hard to make sure the U.S. administration took this seriously—which it did. I felt vindicated by the outcome, ambiguous though the final statement of the Chen Shui-bian administration may have been. And I accepted, with equanimity, the decision of the Chen administration, in retaliation, to stop dealing with me. I did what had to be done.
So, in retrospect, I feel good about all four of these episodes. And I feel gratitude toward the Chinese leaders and the Taiwanese leaders for letting me participate in this historic struggle to shape the future of China. With the election of KMT’s President Ma, in whom I have full confidence, I believe the dangerous period of Beijing-Taipei relations is over—at least for some time.
From beginning to end, I considered the people on both sides of the strait to be extraordinarily talented, patient, charming, and only somewhat inscrutable.
Going to Taipei and Beijing made me feel, often, as if I were Herodotus descending into the ancient Egyptian kingdom of the Pharaohs—a kingdom quite different and hard to read. And, in this case, American warships were the structural element dividing the kingdom in two. And yet these leaders of an ancient civilization were willing to listen to this American’s ideas about what they should do. It was a heavy responsibility, and I can only say that I tried hard to vindicate their confidence.
I considered Chen Shui-bian to be an extremely intelligent, hard-working, and personally courageous person—and I still do. It may have been an impossible dream to think that the leader of the Independence Party with all its pent-up emotion could have reached agreement with the bureaucracy in Beijing with all its political pressures and inertia. But I shared that dream and don’t regret, for a minute, helping Chen Shui-bian try to achieve it. In any case, efforts like these provided the hope that helped put off the war.
Above all, therefore, spending part of 1999-2006 trying to keep the United States out of war with China seemed time well spent. The risks are much lower now. But they were real before.