Dangerous US diplomacy

Washington, 21 February 1998

In the beginning and middle of January 1998, three former US government officials came through Taipei — prompting one commentator in Taiwan to refer to the island's "...newfound status as an ex-US policy-maker transshipment center."

First came Joseph Nye (former assistant secretary of defense), then Richard Holbrooke (former assistant secretary of State), and then William Perry (former defense secretary) with a whole entourage.

Whether the visits were in some way coordinated or just coincidence remains a mystery. According to a Washington Post report of 21 Februari 1998 it was part of an attempt by the US to open a "track 2" dialogue with Beijing and Taiwan ("US seeks China-Taiwan Dialogue", by John Pomfret).

But The Economist correspondent Laurence Eyton and other Western correspondents in Taipei concluded that the foray of these former US officials amounted to dangerous diplomacy ("Shuttle diplomacy dangerous", China News, 25 January 1998).

The two main problems — according to the article — are:

  1. this represent a trial balloon by the foreign policy establishment in Washington to pressure Taiwan into negotiations with China. According to this analysis, some Clinton Administration officials have staked a lot on bettering relations with China at any cost, and look on Taiwan with a mixture of contempt and annoyance, because it simply gets in the way.

  2. The second problem is the quality of the people involved. None of the three seemed to have a profound understanding of Taiwan. A journalist in Taipei who had dinner with Holbrooke was shocked at how poor his knowledge of the situation was. Holbrooke apparently thought Taiwan was in favor of the Beijing-proposed "One country, two systems."

Mr. Perry didn't do too much better: he arrived in Taipei from Beijing, and stated that Beijing was "...prepared to restart talks with Taiwan without preconditions." The China News article correctly concluded that this would have been a "stunning policy change and a huge concession to Taiwan" on Beijing's part, and chided Mr. Perry for simply not understanding what he was talking about.

Fortunately, the Taiwan government saw through the Beijing ploy, and concluded that the Beijing definition of "One China" is a pre-condition in itself.

However, the worst of the three was former Pentagon policy-maker Joseph Nye, who reportedly proposed that three-way deal in which Beijing would somehow accept a "higher international profile" by Taiwan, and Taiwan would in return declare it would never declare independence and would lift its ban in direct links with China. In addition the US would make a commitment not to recognize Taiwan should it declare independence, and would urge other nations not to do so either.

Taiwan Communiqué comment: while the Taiwanese would welcome real help in solving the problem with China, these three gentlemen started out on the wrong foot. It would be good if they first talked extensively with democratically-elected representatives of the Taiwanese people. After all, it's their future we are talking about.

In particular Mr. Nye's proposals represent the worst kind of horse-trading and meddling in Taiwan's future, and should be rejected out of hand. It disregards the basic principles of self-determination and democracy which are enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations and which constitute (we presume !!) the basis for US foreign policy.

The US and other nations need to emphasize once and for all that it is the right of the Taiwanese people to determine their own future, without interference, threats or intimidation from China. And if they, the people of Taiwan, wish to be accepted as an independent nation named "Taiwan", that choice should be respected and even applauded by the international community.

As we have emphasized time and again, the best way to solve the problem is for China to accept Taiwan as a friendly neighboring state. This is in the mutual interest of the two nations, and will enhance safety and stability in East Asia.

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