Friday, November 26, 1999

Taiwan leader
hints at trade

Bullet The issue: President Lee Teng-hui said Taiwan may be willing to remove trade barriers with China if Beijing acknowledges Taiwan as an equal in bilateral relations.
Bullet Our view: Beijing and Taiwan should be able to find a compromise formula on Taiwan's status if China wants more investment from Taiwan.

TAIWAN President Lee Teng-hui, while deploring a reported Chinese plan to deploy 100 new ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan, has hinted at a softening of his government's policy on trade with China.

In a speech to business leaders, Lee said such military measures by China encourage some Taiwanese to support formal independence, which the ruling Kuomintang Party opposes. But he also said Taiwan may be willing to negotiate removing trade barriers with China after the two governments join the World Trade Organization, which could happen within the next year.

The recent conclusion of a Sino-American trade agreement removed a major obstacle to China joining the WTO. Beijing's acceptance in the trade organization is expected to be followed by Taiwan's admission.

By suggesting that Taiwan may be willing to relax its ban on direct exchanges -- the so-called three links of direct trade, transport and postal ties -- with the mainland, Lee may have been trying to placate local investors.

In addition, by placing a focus on relations with Beijing in the Taiwan presidential election campaign, Lee may have been trying to give the Kuomintang's candidate, Vice President Lien Chan, a boost. Most opinion polls show him lagging in second or third place.

In his speech, Lee attached a condition that Beijing has already rejected -- that China acknowledge the "special state-to-state" character of relations with Taiwan. This description of Taiwan's status by Lee provoked an angry response from Beijing and a flareup of tension a few months ago.

However, by dangling the prospect of increased investment from Taiwan, Lee gave Beijing an incentive to find a mutually acceptable formula to describe Chinese-Taiwan relations.

Taipei has long banned direct contact with the mainland, wary of growing economically dependent on its rival and thus unable to fend off a political takeover. Since Taipei relaxed restrictions a decade ago, Taiwan investors have managed to invest some $40 billion in the mainland by routing it through third places, principally Hong Kong.

LEE said Beijing must show good will by accepting his "state-to-state" formula, which is as popular in Taiwan as it is anathema to the mainland regime. But the Chinese are masters of the face-saving compromise when it is in their interest to find one.

If Beijing wants to improve relations with Taipei and attract more investment, it may seek a way to accommodate in some degree Taiwan's demand for recognition as an equal partner in negotiations. The alternative is further movement toward a showdown that could destroy the delicate balance of stability in East Asia.


Ironwoods, pro and con

Bullet The issue: City officials on Oahu were criticized for removing old ironwood trees from Kapiolani Park while on Maui officials were denounced for planting ironwoods.
Bullet Our view: Confusing, isn't it?

A couple of weeks ago the city government aroused the wrath of preservationists by removing three older ironwood trees from Kapiolani Park as part of the park bandstand project. The Harris administration said the trees were among five removed because they were termite-ridden and in such weak condition they could fall over.

Allan Voranaeff, president of the Kapiolani Park Preservation Society, said the society was told that the city would not touch the trees, which were estimated at between 70 and 100 years old.

Michelle Matson, chairwoman of the Kapiolani Park Advisory Council, charged that the mayor canceled a meeting with the preservationists on one day's notice. "Then they go in the middle of the night and rip them out," she said, adding, "What else is going to happen with our historic landscape? Nothing is safe with these people."

City Managing Director Ben Lee said he never promised anyone that the trees would not be removed, explaining that if trees are in imminent danger of falling, it is incumbent on the city to remove them. He added that the city has been replacing ironwoods of the same vintage nearby, along the Diamond Head side of Kalakaua Avenue and the "carriage drive" mauka of the bandstand.

Contrast this exchange with what is going on in Maui.

A few days later, on Nov. 13, 200 volunteers turned out to plant ironwood trees at Keopuolani Park. But the event turned into a protest against alien species that brought Mayor James Apana to tears. Explained the mayor: "It saddened me that here people came out to help the county and this unfortunate thing happened."

Environmentalists protested that the ironwood is a "botanical cancer" that turns the soil acidic and destroys native forests.

THE county's park director, Floyd Miyazono, said the ironwoods were selected after a number of native plants died in the park. But Apana agreed to remove the 100 ironwoods planted Nov. 13 if a suitable native plant can be found to serve as a windbreak.

On Oahu the city administration is criticized for removing old, termite-ridden ironwoods that are about to fall over, while on Maui the county is denounced for planting young, healthy ironwoods. If you're confused, you're not alone.

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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