Wednesday, July 8, 1998

Backlash against U.S.
statement on Taiwan

WHILE in China, President Clinton said some things that pleased the Beijing regime. For example, he praised China for resisting pressure to devalue its currency, while prodding Japan to do more to ease the Asian economic crisis. And he recited the "three nos" of current U.S. policy on China-Taiwan. It comes as no surprise that these statements didn't go down well in Tokyo and Taipei.

Japanese leaders, already displeased because Clinton, bowing to China's request, did not stop in Tokyo, suffered in silence. But Taiwan made its unhappiness plain. That prompted the Clinton administration to give assurances that the president did not negotiate away the U.S. commitment to the Republic of China during his talks in Beijing.

The "three nos" are no U.S. support for an independent Taiwan, no recognition of a separate Taiwan government and no support for Taiwan's entry into international organizations (the government has been campaigning for admission to the United Nations). Clinton was the first president to make that statement, although Secretary of State Madeleine Albright previously made similar remarks.

The State Department, trying to defuse the situation, stressed that Clinton's statement was not made in writing or in a communique, which would have indicated that the president had reached an understanding with the Beijing regime on Taiwan's future.

Richard Bush, the top U.S. liaison official to Taiwan, was sent to Taipei to talk to President Lee Teng-hui and to try to allay his concerns. Lee told Bush the United States should not consult Beijing when discussing Taiwan's future.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott called Clinton's comments on Taiwan counterproductive. Lott said he would confer with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Sen. Jesse Helms, and other leaders to consider whether the Senate should adopt a resolution restating U.S. policy on Taiwan "to repair the damage that has been done."

Congress embarrassed the Clinton administration once before on China policy. Three years ago, the State Department assured Beijing that Taiwan's President Lee would not be permitted to make an unofficial visit to the U.S. to attend a reunion at his alma mater, Cornell University. But Congress unanimously voted to countermand that decision, and Lee made the trip, infuriating the Chinese Communists and producing a crisis in relations with Beijing.

In discussing Taiwan policy in China, Clinton should have mentioned the U.S. defense commitment to Taiwan in addition to the "three nos." Congressional Republicans may insist on correcting that omission.


‘Portable’ insurance

ALTHOUGH Congress rejected President Clinton's plan to overhaul the nation's entire health-care system, it did enact important legislation making it easier for Americans to keep their health insurance when they change or lose their jobs. Insurers attempting to subvert the law should have expected Clinton to retaliate strongly. His intolerance of their tactics is well-placed.

The insurance industry lobbied unsuccessfully against the guarantee of so-called insurance "portability," forbidding insurers from denying coverage -- on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions -- to people who change jobs if the new employer provides health benefits to its employees. When Clinton signed the law in 1996, he said it would help up to 25 million Americans.

However, federal and state officials monitoring insurance have found that some companies have discouraged sales to eligible individuals by charging very high premiums or penalized insurance agents by denying them commissions on coverage sold to customers with pre-existing medical problems. Those actions run counter to the spirit if not the letter of the law.

Clinton has responded by signing an order to deny participation in the lucrative insurance market for federal employees to any insurance company circumventing the law in its private insurance business. The federal employee program, the nation's largest health-insurance program, covers nine million people through 350 health plans.

The presidential order should work in the short term to bring most companies into compliance. Meanwhile, Sen. Edward Kennedy, co-author of the 1996 law, has introduced a bill to limit the premiums assessed to people changing jobs to 50 percent above the rates charged to individuals in good health. Further legislation such as that may be needed to bring the insurance industry into full compliance.


Trustee compensation

GOVERNOR Cayetano arrived at the right decision on signing into law a bill aimed at setting limits on compensation to trustees of charitable institutions. The bill was targeted at the exorbitant amounts paid to Bishop Estate trustees. The next step is for Attorney General Margery Bronster to recommend that a probate judge reduce those amounts.

Bronster favored a bill that would have tied trustees' compensation caps to the salary of the Hawaii Supreme Court chief justice, now $95,000. The Legislature opted instead for a bill that would allow the attorney general to challenge trustees' pay in probate court.

Bronster now is free to approach a judge about reducing the Bishop Estate trustees' pay, which was $840,000 last year. Although considered by many to be outrageous, that compensation is permissible under existing law, which sets limits based on the estate's revenues. The new law will require the judge to determine what is "reasonable."

The new law's constitutionality may be challenged by the trustees. Bronster should act promptly in making her recommendation to a judge so the legal issues can be settled.

Bishop Estate Archive

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