COLIN Powell has been busy on his diplomatic rounds during these later stages of the US Presidential election. Earlier this week he made a brief visit to Beijing and subsequently gave two television interviews which seemed to signal a major change in US policy towards Taiwan. Speaking in Hong Kong he said, “There is only one China. Taiwan is not independent. It does not enjoy sovereignty as a nation.” What Secretary Powell said is, of course, absolutely correct but something that the United States has avoided acknowledging in such clear terms since it switched its diplomatic recognition of the nation of China from Taiwan to Beijing in 1979. Since then America has accepted China's claim that there is only “one China”, including Taiwan, but has avoided explicitly supporting China's wish for reunification. The Taiwanese President responded angrily to Mr Powell's statement by insisting that “Taiwan does not belong to the People's Republic of China.” SHOULD George W Bush be re-elected it is unlikely that Mr Powell will want to continue as his Secretary of State. From the first month of the Bush administration in 2001 he found himself the victim of second-guessing by the White House on foreign policy and throughout the following years he has often been a lone voice of reason in Washington. He was deeply embarrassed by the faulty briefing he received from the Pentagon before he passionately argued the case at the United Nations that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and he has frequently been at odds with Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld.

In speaking as he did this week, was he taking a last chance to warn Taiwan that there is a limit to the support it can expect from the United States? Is General Powell demob happy?


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