The Cable

Mullen goes to bat for State Department budget

The Pentagon is actively lobbying for the State Department and USAID as next year's budgets get formed, and now we can add Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to the list of Defense Department leaders who are going out on a limb to support money for diplomacy and development.

In separate letters to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, Mullen criticized the $4 billion cut that Sen. Kent Conrad, D-ND, proposed for the fiscal 2011 budget request in his budget resolution. That cut has already been criticized by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the entire development community.

"We are living in times that require an integrated national security program with budgets that fund the full spectrum of national security efforts, including vitally important pre-conflict and post-conflict civilian stabilization programs," Mullen wrote. "Diplomatic programs are critical to our long-term security."

But the Pentagon isn't just writing letters. Hill sources say that Pentagon officials of various stripes are actually lobbying foreign affairs appropriators while making the rounds on Capitol Hill. Traditionally, the Pentagon guys talk to the defense appropriators, leaving the foreign affairs lobbying to the State Department.

There's also new traction on Gates's idea for a $2 billion jointly managed fund to handle issues that overlap the security and diplomatic spheres. The Pentagon is actively pushing the idea, Hill sources say, while the pushback is actually come from the State Department, which is still skeptical the funds could be jointly managed in a fair and uncomplicated way.

Regardless, Gates's push to actually take money from his own department and giving it to State is real, despite some bureaucratic wrangling over the assistance. And the Pentagon's lobbying will no doubt have an effect if and when Conrad's budget resolution makes it to the Senate floor. We're hearing that a bipartisan effort led by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry, D-MA, is preparing to try to roll back Conrad's cuts. Then again, Congress might not even tackle the issue directly this year.

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The Cable

Did Obama’s transportation secretary alter the One China policy?

In U.S.-China relations, semantics are everything. It's no coincidence that the 1972 Shanghai Communiqué that paved the way for diplomatic relations between Washington and Beijing specified that, "The United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China," and that "The United States Government does not challenge that position."

That wording, part of then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's Cold War strategy of exploiting rifts between Mao Zedong's communist government and the Soviet Union, was carefully crafted to allow the U.S. to move forward with engaging Red China by creating "constructive ambiguity" around the U.S.-Taiwan relationship, while still upholding U.S. responsibilities to defend the island.

Those responsibilities were more explicitly outlined in the Taiwan Relations Act, which Congress passed in 1979 after Jimmy Carter's administration formally switched official recognition to mainland China. But U.S. administrations have hewed carefully to Kissinger's ambiguous line, and the fruits of that effort are being seen in this week's Strategic and Economic Dialogue.

That's why any perceived deviation from that policy can carry the risk of upsetting relations. Taiwanese and Chinese sources tell The Cable they noticed last week when U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood seemed to go off script at a U.N. press conference by listing Taiwan as a "country" while talking about his new initiative to stop people from texting while driving.

"Many other governments are also moving to put an end to distracted driving. To date, 32 countries -- including Russia, Brazil, France, Japan, Jordan, Spain, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom -- have passed laws that restrict drivers' use of handheld devices," Lahood said.

Matthew Lee's U.N.-focus blog at Inner City Press caught the reference and linked to a video clip of the remarks here.

The Cable followed up with DOT spokeswoman Olivia Alair, who explained, "The secretary was acknowledging Taiwan's good work in passing anti-distracted driving laws, and obviously this does not signal any shift in U.S. policy."

Leading experts saw the comment as a gaffe by a cabinet secretary who accidentally waded into the U.S.-Taiwan semantical minefield.

"Secretary LaHood has no history of pushing Taiwan-related issues, so I would assume this was an inadvertant slip," said Douglas Paal, former director of the American Institute of Taiwan, which serves as America's diplomatic presence in Taipei. "Years of service in the Congress don't necessarily make someone prepared to whisper the correct chatechismic answers on the midrash of Taiwan-China-US relations."

"LaHood probably didn't realize he was driving recklessly with his Taiwan wording," another China hand joked. "When at the U.N., he should probably keep both eyes on the diplomatic road."

The Chinese Embassy did not respond to requests for comment, and Taiwan's "economic and cultural office" in Washington declined to weigh in.

UPDATE: Chinese Embassy spokesman Wang Baodong writes in with the following, very critical comment:

"There's only one China in the world, Taiwan is part of China. This is a universally accepted fact by the international community, and a principle enshrined in the three joint communiques between China and the US. The erronious point made by the US government official in question obviously violates the commitment made by the consecutive US governments since the Carter Administration and the US side's One China policy. The Chinese Embassy has made representations with the US State Department regarding this, requesting the US side to take steps to correct the mistake, eradicate the negtive effect and avoid repetition of such mistakes in the future."

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