Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Faleomavaega at War with Taiwan

Although we like to settle disputes here by developing consensus, Faleomavaega has been quite successful through the years using a U.S.-style adversarial and confrontational approach. Perhaps he developed his methods early in his congressional career by watching Bill Clinton, who organized a rapid response team to deal with any political attacks he might suffer on the way to his successful 1992 run for the presidency.

Eni is viewed by many as having a “thin skin,” and typically fires back whenever someone criticizes him publicly for some action he has or has not taken, particularly during campaign seasons. And his counterattacks usually are lengthy diatribes--some would say overkill--laced with invective and personal insults. He has had some memorable feuds with Lorn Cramer (over Eni’s Hanoi toast to Ho Chi Minh), Togiola, Aumua Amata and an especially juicy one with Afimutasi Gus Hannemann, which bordered on abusiveness. Google the names (e.g. Faleomavaega and Hannemann) and you can will see the exchanges that were carried out in public.

His method has worked well for him because the territory’s largest and most influential medium, the Samoa News, which employs his sister-in-law as a top editor, has served as his lap dog over the years, mostly giving Eni the last word in any dispute. Typically, someone will make an accusation, which the News will print and then Eni responds with a lengthy press release or letter to the editor, which the News prints in full. It may last for another cycle but then that is the end of it, with Eni pronouncing the final word. There are several occasions on which the target of Eni’s counter assault has replied a second time but the News has declined to print it.

So Eni, who prides himself in being a seasoned diplomat, can be forgiven for thinking his method will work elsewhere but this time he may have bitten off more than he can chew. As we reported in a previous post, the Taipei Times last month ran in editorial labeled “Faleomavaega: no friend of Taiwan” in which the paper criticized our wandering delegate for attempting to water down a House resolution saluting Taiwan on the 30th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act.

In a follow up letter to the editor, Eni accused the paper of having a political agenda because the editorial was “anonymous.” Of course, it is well known that most newspaper editorials are not signed because they are intended to reflect the views of the paper, not an individual. But Eni knows that. That’s one of his favorite tactics. He was using the editorial writer’s “anonymity” at as a pretext for charging the paper with having a political agenda, thus attempting to shift the focus away from his unsuccessful effort to dilute the resolution and back onto the paper, so that the Times would be on the defensive. Classic Eni: when you are losing the debate, change the debate.

If this were American Samoa, Samoa News would have curled up into a fetal position and sucked its corporate thumb and that would have been the end of it. But this is Taiwan, a major actor on the world economic and political stages. So, the old adage “Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel” applies here. Unlike Samoa News, the Taipei Times gave it right back to Faleomavaega in comments that appeared right after his letter, letting him know that his tactics, which one political opponent has labeled a “thumb-in-your-eye” approach, were not welcome in Taipei. And his response set off the blogosphere as well.

Let’s take Eni’s contentions in his letter and measure them against the responses by the Times and by bloggers:

Eni’s letter: I am writing in response to your recent editorial (“Faleomavaega: No friend of Taiwan,” March 25, page 8). No name is attached to the editorial, which suggests that either the author or your newspaper has its own political agenda.

Times response: The March 25 article Congressman Faleomavaega refers to was a Taipei Times editorial and therefore carried no byline.

Foreigner in Formosa Blog (FFB): A brief list of OTHER papers which print unattributed editorials: the New York Times, the Washington Post, the National Review, the Wall Street Journal, and Taiwan's China Post. Conspiracy theorists in congressmen's offices: You may begin connecting the dots . . . now.

Eni: . . . one might conclude that your newspaper stands in opposition to the will of your people [the Taiwanese], who voted in 2008 for a change in Administration and for a more honest government.

FFB: Heh. The Taiwanese may indeed have voted for a government which they thought was more honest. What they received however, was a president who is described (by his own media DEFENDERS) as a liar who would say anything to get elected. By the by, I see from a recent post by Tim Maddog over at Taiwan Matters! that Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou's approval rating is currently floundering below the 30% mark, while his Chinese Nationalist Party colleagues in the legislature plumb the depths even further -- below 20%. Let's be generous, and say Taiwan's legislative and presidential branches enjoy 20 and 30% approval ratings, respectively. So, what was that you were saying about, "the will of the people," Mr. Faleomavaega?

Eni: Given that your paper published false reports from Coen Blaauw, executive director of the Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA), on March 21 and again on March 26, in which he twisted the truth about my involvement with the 30th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), and also given that your newspaper never bothered to contact my office for a response to his untruthful comments, one might conclude that your newspaper stands in opposition to the will of your people, who voted in 2008 for a change in Administration and for a more honest government.

Times: William Lowther, the Taipei Times’ Washington correspondent, did not contact Mr Faleomavaega’s office because he spoke directly with Mr Faleomavaega at the end of the subcommittee meeting, together with a number of other reporters.

Eni: In view of the fact that this language is straight from the TRA, why would your anonymous writer, your reporter, or Mr. Blaauw take issue with this language? I submit they take issue because it is their desire to turn the TRA into something it is not. . . . Such an approach is wrong, and our American troops deserve better from FAPA and the Taipei Times.

Times: The Taipei Times has no connection with FAPA, though we do occasionally run opinion pieces by FAPA personnel. These pieces do not necessarily represent the views of the Taipei Times.

Eni: Prior to the Subcommittee’s markup, Chairman Howard Berman and Ranking Member Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of the Foreign Affairs committee agreed to the changes I offered, as did the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee, Mr. Manzullo, and the bill’s author. All other Subcommittee members agreed to the language by unanimous consent.

Times: Mr Faleomavaega’s claim that changes he made to the resolution had full backing from fellow committee members cannot be sustained in light of the reversal and, in substance, repudiation by committee members of the amendments on the floor of the House of Representatives, as we reported on March 26. Nor does Mr Faleomavaega refer to his most contentious amendment to the resolution: replacing the words “the cornerstone of” with “vital to” in the sentence “[Congress] reaffirms its unwavering commitment to the Taiwan Relations Act as the cornerstone of United States relations with Taiwan.”

Eni: The TRA came into existence only after the United States established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China. Since 1979, US policy regarding Taiwan has remained unchanged. The Joint Communiques, together with the Taiwan Relations Act, are the foundation of our One China policy, which implies, as Republican President Ronald Reagan once said, that “the Taiwan question is a matter for the Chinese people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait to resolve.” Every US President since 1979 has stood by this assertion. As Senator Richard Lugar, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in 2001, said, “For many years, successive US administrations have affirmed that there is one China and that the people on Taiwan and the people of China should work out a plan for peaceful unification.”

Times: Mr Faleomavaega seems confused about the content of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA). Nowhere does the TRA imply, for example, that Taiwan and China “should work out a plan for peaceful unification.” These words from Senator Lugar reflected and still reflect the policy preferences of certain politicians, but they derive no authority from the TRA. Three years after Lugar made these comments, then-secretary of state Colin Powell made a similar comment, which he later retracted.

Taiwan Matters Blog (TMB): Yes, Lugar said "unification" , but the fact behind the US' policies is that the word should be "resolution." Actually, that same CRS Report for Congress which quotes Lugar ("China/Taiwan: Evolution of the 'One China' Policy — Key Statements from Washington, Beijing, and Taipei") states this quite clearly: President Reagan's 1982 statement on arms sales to Taiwan declared that "the Taiwan question is a matter for the Chinese people, on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, to resolve." Moreover, "settlement" or "resolution" — not stated as "unification" — of the Taiwan question is left open to be peacefully determined by both sides. Big difference. What does Faleomavaega know about what's "better for the people of Taiwan"? Not a damn thing, apparently.

Eni: The TRA is not a platform for independence, as they would like it to be, and the American people, as well as the young people on Taiwan, deserve to know the truth about the history of the TRA.

Times: Mr Faleomavaega says “the TRA is not a platform for independence.” The wording of the TRA does not support independence or unification. The key expression is “peaceful means” in determining Taiwan’s future.

You can read Faleomavaega’s amazingly combative and insulting letter in its entirety here:
Links to previous stories are provided and readers also can navigate to the various bloggers to get the full text of their comments.

Now we just wait to see what Eni’s next move is. If this were our local media, we could expect another blast from Washington. But because it is Taiwan, there may be silence. And if there is, you know it’s because the full committee chairman, Howard Berman, called him in and told him to cool it or lose his travel allowance. Now, that is something that really would get Eni’s attention.


Anonymous said...

right on! I'm about to write a letter to the Taipei Times in response to Fallacy-my-vaguer's latest complaint.

bamboo said...

American Samoa's non-voting Congressman represents fewer than 90,000 non-citizens (American "nationals," whatever that means), which is less than one-tenth the size of a real congressional district. What's a guy with such weird constitutional status doing chairing an important sub-committee in the U.S. Congress?

Michael Turton said...

Hahaha. Fabulous post, which you saved me the trouble of writing.

This is not the first time Eni F has run into this problem with Taiwan. He doesn't really understand US policy toward Taiwan at all, doesn't get the nuances (as the Taipei Times mercilessly points out) and seems to have adopted the viewpoint of Beijing on the Taiwan issue.

As a Taiwan political blogger Faleomavaega comes up from time to time... he pulled this exact same stunt last year, changing the wording of the text of a resolution to favor Beijing. Dan Blumenthal of AEI had the call (from my blog:

To its credit, the House of Representatives on March 5 passed a resolution praising both Taiwan's democratic achievement and the upcoming vote by the overwhelming margin of 409-1. The only odd note--other than the lone dissenting vote from our libertarian friend Ron Paul, who apparently doesn't care about liberty other than his own--was the deletion from the original resolution of a clause accurately noting that Taiwan "faces threat and intimidation from neighboring China." The deletion came at the insistence of the chairman of the House Asia and Pacific subcommittee, delegate Eni Faleomavaega from American Samoa. Yes, you read that right .  .  . American Samoa. Despite the fact that Mr. Faleomavaega is a nonvoting "member," it appears he gets to throw his considerable Samoan weight around when it comes to American foreign policy.

About six months earlier Faleomavaega made the same error in understanding the US position, the Nelson Report noted -- he thinks when the US says "One China" it means the same thing as when Beijing says "One China." In that same letter he even stupidly thought the DPP had provoked China to launch missiles at Taiwan so Clinton sent carriers, when it was the KMT President, Lee Teng-hui, who had allegedly "provoked" China (Eni entirely lacks the ability to discern that for China, "being provoked" is a policy choice, not a visceral response). The letter he wrote is found at the end of that post in full; it is a study in ignorance of the Taiwan situation.

Faleomavaega is a disgrace, period. Time for him to be eased out of that seat and someone more alive to the nuances of US policy be given it.

Michael Turton
The View from Taiwan

Anonymous said...

A great nation sinks often not because of wars but because of incompetent representatives like Eni Faleomavaega, who can not distinguish right from wrong, and facts from lies. The way he wiggles out his mistake is typical of Washington sub-species, just like no one in the banking committee apologize for the dramatic failing of this nation’s financial system. This person is a disgrace of the subcommittee and American Samoa.

Anonymous said...

It is very obvious that the Taiwan lobby wants to undo the One China policy. However, the three Shanghai Communiques are not something we can ignore because of the US diplomatic connection with the PRC rests upon the Taiwan question. There are problems with One China policy and it is not very fair to Taiwan. But TI supporters also can't pretend it doesn't exist. This is a problem within the TI arena, and reality requires solutions to look at the Shanghai Communiques as a legal kind of barrier. There are ways to work around it even if One China seems insurmountable.

Michael Turton said...

Anon, the One China policies of the US and of Beijing are different. Under Beijing policy, China owns Taiwan. Under the US policy, the status of Taiwan is undetermined.

Couldn't be more different, actually.


Anonymous said...

Great post! Please keep up the good work.