Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Gingrich Abroad: A Study in Not Walking Softly

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Gingrich Abroad: A Study in Not Walking Softly

Article excerpt

When diplomats speak they tend to be, well, diplomatic. Deliberate vagueness and discreet imprecision are their common tools. Their goal: greasing the inevitable frictions that arise among the nations of the world.

This is not the rhetorical approach that Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich took on his recent trip to China, Japan, and Taiwan.

As he traveled through Asia, Mr. Gingrich was startlingly blunt about one of the core issues of American diplomacy: the US commitment to defend Taiwan against any Chinese aggression. It was a swashbuckling performance that won the embattled Speaker plaudits from many in his party. Conservatives felt that compared with Vice President Al Gore, who preceded him in Beijing, Gingrich looked as decisive as Gen. Douglas MacArthur. But Gingrich-as-ambassador irked many in the administration. And some Asia experts worry that the US-China-Taiwan triangle is one place where vague diplo-speak is really the right approach. Warning China is one thing, they say. But neither does the US want Taiwan to provoke its giant neighbor. "There is no good international policy reason for him to be doing this," says one adviser to the administration on Asia issues. "He's not helping anything." The whole thing is a case study in the virtues and drawbacks of diplomatic formulations. It's also a lesson in the use of foreign trips to burnish domestic political images. Consider the experience of Mr. Gore. He appeared eager to deal diplomatically with his Chinese hosts. The result was an overall performance that The New York Times editorialized as "anemic," as well as photos of an embarrassed Gore participating in a Chinese champagne toast. Gingrich, on the other hand, looked eager to lecture everyone he met about the need for human rights and democracy. "I think Gingrich did a good job," says Arthur Waldron, a China expert and professor of strategy and policy at the US Naval War College in Newport, R.I. But did he go too far with his remarks on Taiwan? If China attacks, "we will defend Taiwan. Period," said Gingrich. It's an issue that may seem speculative but is in fact one of the most delicate points now facing the US in Asia. …

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