The 'other' Tancredo ignored

From local media, you'd never know he's a big Taiwan backer

Dec. 3, 2006

by David Kopel

Last week, Jason Salzman suggested that the Denver media pay too much attention to U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo's most sensational statements, such as his claim that parts of Miami are like a Third World country. I have a complaint about the flip side of that coin: The media are paying no attention to Tancredo's less sensational - but very significant - efforts to shake up U.S. relations with China.

The Taipei Timesis one of the leading English-language newspapers published in Taiwan. In 2006, the Taipei Timesmentioned Tancredo 19 times in stories about U.S.-Taiwan relations. As the paper observes, Tancredo is "one of Taiwan's most fervent friends in Congress." Consequently, he is one of the staunchest critics of the Bush administration's policy of lukewarm support for Taiwan.

Last week, Tancredo sent a letter to Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian, inviting him to visit Washington, D.C. - in contradiction to Bush administration policy, which has discouraged official visits from Taiwan's highest leaders. That story made Page 3 of the Taipei Times,but did not even get a single sentence in the Denver papers.

In early October, shortly before Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice departed for the Far East to discuss the North Korea problem, Tancredo (along with California Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher) sent Rice a letter urging her to "consider a role for Taiwan" in the multilateral Korean negotiations, and to visit President Chen in Taipei during her trip.

A few weeks before, Tancredo and a bipartisan group of representatives sent a letter to President Bush asking him to remove obsolete restrictions on travel by Taiwan diplomats, which had been created by the State Department in the 1970s. "We should not let Beijing dictate whom we can or cannot welcome to Washington," he said.

In a September House committee hearing, Tancredo grilled a U.S. State Department undersecretary because of the State Department's support for South Korea's Ban Ki-moon as the secretary-general of the United Nations. Tancredo supplied examples of Ban's anti-Taiwan record as South Korean foreign minister.

A few days before, Tancredo led several congressmen in writing to U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, urging the U.S. delegation to reverse its current position, and to support the admission of Taiwan to the United Nations.

At a committee hearing in July, Tancredo criticized a State Department trade official for refusing to move forward on a proposed U.S.-Taiwan Free Trade Agreement; the department had said that Taiwan must first make itself more economically accessible to China.

In June, Tancredo sponsored an amendment to overturn the State Department's restrictions on diplomatic visits from Taiwan. The measure passed the House 393-23, but was removed in the Senate, at the request of President Bush. The vote was "the watershed moment in normalizing diplomatic relations between Taiwan and the U.S.," according to the Formosan Association for Public Affairs, a pro-Taiwan citizens group in the U.S. The Chinese foreign ministry, meanwhile, denounced the vote as a "serious violation of the fundamental principles of international relations."

The month before, in a committee hearing, Tancredo chastised the State Department for refusing to allow President Chen to stay overnight in the United States, during his return from a visit to Latin America. The State Department explained, in effect, that Chen was snubbed for being too supportive of Taiwan's independence.

Earlier in 2006, Tancredo blasted Major League Baseball (for forcing Taiwan to compete under the bogus name "Chinese Taipei" in the World Baseball Classic) and the World Health Organization (for publishing a misleading map claiming that Taiwan is part of China and is afflicted with avian flu).

The issue of U.S.-Taiwan relations is, of course, of great importance in U.S.-China relations. Whether you prefer the State Department's kowtowing to Beijing, or the more assertive Tancredo approach, there's no doubt that the differences have profound implications.

Especially because Tancredo has already had such a big impact on U.S. relations with Mexico, the Denver papers ought to inform their readers about Tancredo's efforts to affect American relations with Taiwan and with China. When you have to read a newspaper printed on the other side of the planet in order to find out what a local congressman is doing, that's a sign that the local papers aren't covering Congress very well.

You might have noticed that Tancredo wasn't terribly upset when his speech at Michigan State University on Dec. 1 was disrupted by protesters. "It was," he said at the time, "an excellent expression of free speech . . . " Maybe this is because Tancredo is such a staunch supporter of free speech, as he showed when he filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the appellants in Rahmani v. U.S., a case under consideration by the Supreme Court. At issue is whether the government can prosecute an individual for contributing to a group it classifies as a "terrorist organization" and, at the same time, prevent the accused from presenting evidence that refutes that designation.

Disclosure: From 1993-'98, Tancredo ran the Independence Institute, where I work.  

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