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
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:
- 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.
- 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
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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