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Chinese ambassador threatens Senate on TSEA

Washington, 15 February 2000

Cartoon in the Taipei Times

In a letter to all U.S. Senators, dated February 4th 2000, the Chinese ambassador in Washington launched the PRC's lobbying effort to block the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act (TSEA). Ambassador Li Zhaoxing ominously threatened that failure to "..approach the Taiwan issue with extra caution" might "entail explosive developments," and "...risk unraveling what our two countries have worked so hard and so long to build."

In the letter, the ambassador outlined China's objections to the TSEA, saying that the bill: 1) negates the "one China" principle; 2) violates the three China-US Joint Communiqués; and 3) fans up a "China threat" hysteria.

In a response issued on 15 February 2000, Professor Chen Wen-yen, President of the Formosan Association for Public Affairs, stated that Mr. Li is wrong on all three points.

He said that the "One China" concept is a relic of the Cold War, and should be discarded. In addition, he said: that the U.S. takes no formal position on the status of Taiwan. The State Department recently stated, "The PRC government and the Taiwan authorities have their own 'one China' policies."

In her letter to Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Assistant Secretary Barbara Larkin continued, "We are willing to support any outcome voluntarily agreed to by both sides of the Taiwan Strait." The TSEA does not affect this US position, nor does it make formal the US military relationship with Taiwan," Chen concluded.

On the second point, Professor Chen argued that the TSEA is a welcome complement to the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act (TRA). The TRA provides explicit guarantees that the United States will make available defense articles and services necessary in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability and requires timely reviews by United States military authorities of Taiwan's defense needs.

The TSEA strengthens the TRA, in that it provides for operational training, better communication and coordination, and strengthens consultation procedures with Congress on Taiwan's security needs.

Just as Mr. Li wrongly conflates the PRC and US positions on the "one China" principle, he equates his faulty understanding of the August 17, 1982 Joint Communique with the position of the US.

Congress, initially angered by this Executive agreement, had to be assured by John Holdridge, then Assistant Secretary of State, that the Administration undertook the August discussions with China "with the firm resolve that there were principles regarding the security of Taiwan which could not be compromised - principles…embodied in the Taiwan Relations Act."

Holdridge went on to state unequivocally that "our future actions concerning arms sales to Taiwan are premised on a continuation of China's peaceful policy toward a resolution of its differences with Taiwan."

In About Face, reporter Jim Mann details a "terse, one-page memorandum that explained his [Reagan's] own interpretation and understanding of what he had done. The United States would restrict arms sales to Taiwan so long as the balance of military power between China and Taiwan was preserved [author's emphasis], Reagan wrote."

China has not kept its promises, as evidenced most recently by the missile firings at Taiwan in 1996 and the continued refusal by Chinese officials to renounce the use of force against Taiwan. The TSEA notes this as well as the growing military power imbalance in the Taiwan Strait caused by China's missile build-up and weapons procurement program.

Finally, Mr. Li is wrong about the TSEA fanning the flames of the "China threat" thesis. It is China, which has increased tension in the area by its missile build-up and military threats. The TSEA seeks to "eliminate ambiguity and convey with clarity continued United States support for Taiwan, its people, and their ability to maintain their democracy free from coercion and their society free from the use of force against them."

The Congress wants to ensure that there is no misunderstanding of US support for a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan question. "Lack of clarity could lead to unnecessary misunderstandings or confrontations between the United States and the People's Republic of China, with grave consequences for the security of the Western Pacific region," states the bill. If China truly wants to have a "constructive strategic partnership with the United States," as Ambassador Li states, clearing up misunderstandings should be most welcome.

"Finally, Mr. Li is wrong about the infamous FAPA, and the TSEA," said FAPA President Chen. "The Formosan Association for Public Affairs was founded in 1982 by the Taiwanese American community in the United States to represent their views on democracy and human rights in Taiwan and their support for self-determination for the people in Taiwan. It is a U.S. organization, not a `Taiwan lobby."

"Our letterhead proudly states that we support the establishment of an independent and democratic Taiwan," Chen continued. "We are also proud of our role in gathering support for the TSEA. We believe the people of Taiwan must determine their own future. We advocate for them to do so in a peaceful environment, free from coercion. The TSEA insures US support for this peaceful environment exists."