Senate hearing on Taiwan Relations

Washington, 14 May 1998. At a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, two testimonies were presented on U.S. relations with China and Taiwan.

Mr. Stanley Roth, the State Department official responsible for East Asian and Pacific affairs tried to assure the U.S. Senate that Taiwan's interests will not be sacrificed during the upcoming visit of US President Clinton to China.

However, the Administration's policy was criticized by Prof. Arthur Waldron, who is Lauder Professor of International Relations at the University of Pennsylvania, and serves a Director of Asian Studies at the Washington-DC based American Enterprise Institute. Below we present Prof. Wadron's testimony in full.

Assistant Secretary of State Stanley Roth said he wanted to "take this opportunity to categorically deny that progress at the summit will be achieved at Taiwan's expense." Despite widespread rumors to the contrary, he said: "There will be no `fourth communique' regarding (US) arms sales to Taiwan."

Roth also said that the US position on Taiwan remains unchanged. "We remain committed to our relationship with Taiwan in accordance with the three US-PRC joint communiques and the Taiwan Relations Act, and continue to support the peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue," he said.

In an effort to justify the administration's engagement with mainland China, the assistant secretary said that Washington's efforts to improve relations with Beijing are intended "to strengthen peace and stability in East Asia and in that sense will benefit the region as a whole, including Taiwan."

Testimony of Arthur Waldron

Before Senate Foreign Relations Committee

May 14, 1998

Mr. Chairman, Senators, Ladies and Gentlemen: A "strong, stable, secure and open China": that is the repeatedly expressed goal of the administration's tactic of "engagement" with Beijing. I have no wish this morning to challenge that goal, which seems to me eminently reasonable. Rather, I will raise questions about how realistic it is, at least in the short term, and about the tactics used to reach it.

First, as to realism. Change in the economic and social realms in China since the death of Mao Zedong in 1976 has been real and extremely impressive. It might therefore seem reasonable to suggest that these changes will transform seamlessly into political change as well: indeed, the need for the United States to foster such steady and gradual change would appear to be the premise of the "engagement" policy. It may work: One can hope that change in China will follow the examples of Taiwan and Russia and the Philippines, among others, where the transition from dictatorship to democracy has been surprisingly smooth-and not those of Romania or Indonesia, or China itself in 1989.

But we cannot count on such a smooth transition. Although economic and social change in China has been so rapid and so extensive that the country now finds itself at the point where some sort of government opening to the people is inescapable, the signs from Beijing are that no such opening is being prepared. Rather, the regime looks set to attempt to ride out the storm, hoping a combination of selective domestic repression, continuing economic growth, and foreign support, will provide it with a legitimacy and stability that it has not secured from its own people.

However China is no longer a land of impoverished subsistence farmers ruled by an all-powerful "Chairman" in Beijing, and therefore we may doubt whether such an approach will work. It is a land today of entrepreneurs, of mobile labor, of vast investment, of markets of every sort, of high culture and of education-in short, of every sort of ferment. Plans for economic change, moreover, envision major remodeling including putting millions of people out of work. Such measures demand governmental legitimacy. The society that China has become today can no longer be ruled autocratically. Its people must be involved in making the laws and legitimating authority. That means the sort of liberalization we have seen elsewhere in Asia and in the former Soviet bloc. To stand against this tide in China is to risk chaos and catastrophe.

Like the desire for prosperity, the desire for freedom and personal autonomy originates in China itself. These are not alien concepts, applied by arrogant and insensitive foreigners. Constitutional government has been a dream of Chinese people since the early years of this century. Many people supported the Communists in 1949 because they expected Mao and his followers to create such a regime. Although they were bitterly disappointed, such desire for political freedom continues to find a place in China and in the Chinese communist party. Today, however, political reformers are absent from the highest reaches of Party leadership and discussion of serious political reform is forbidden in the official media. Liberalizers of the past are still non-persons. Thus, Zhao Ziyang, Prime Minister until 1989, remains incommunicado, under house arrest. The name of Hu Yaobang, late Prime Minister and also a political reformer, is too sensitive to be published in the official People's Daily. There is much talk about the bold economic reforms Prime Minister Zhu Rongji is supposed to under take; silence about the equally pressing need for bold political reforms.

These are not the omens of imminent and decisive political reform. My prognosis, therefore, is that the current Chinese administration is not going to move quickly enough to make the political changes that its already very successful economic reforms require-and that the result will be an increasingly tense and disorderly situation inside China. A beleaguered Chinese government will almost certainly use force against its own people-several protesting shopkeepers were shot dead in Chengdu just a few days ago-and may well try to distract the population with nationalism and imaginary external threats.

So while the goal of a "strong, stable, secure and open China" is desirable, it is unlikely to be achieved soon, or by gradual steps. Major bumps can be expected in the road ahead as China changes regimes. Therefore even as we seek to foster such change through engagement, we must hedge against risks.

Foreign policy often mirrors domestic policy, and a China that is repressive at home is likely to be provocative and bullying abroad. We have seen plenty of examples of such behavior recently. Probes and intimidation in pursuit of dubious territorial claims continue, as the Japanese, the Indonesians, the Filipinos, the Vietnamese, the Taiwanese, the Indians, and others will testify. Chinese can be enormously courteous, but they are also masters of conflict: the protracted game, the zero sum "ni si wo huo" ["you die I live"] struggle, the arts of isolating and intimidating adversaries, disarming and confusing opposition, and then quietly bludgeoning whoever remains-these are unattractive but well developed parts of the Chinese cultural inventory. Current Chinese military preparations, moreover, seem designed to be used in connection with such tactics. Any sound US policy must deal with these serious challenges, by steady and unflinching deterrence.

Indeed "deterrence"-broadly speaking, the willingness to counter Chinese threats, support allies, and brave Beijing's displeasure (which is often expressed with the extravagant rhetoric of "calculated over reaction")-is the second component (engagement being the first) of a successful China policy. It is the one that is largely missing from the current Clinton administration approach.

The reason for this absence is worth noting, for it gets at what is fundamentally wrong with the administration's strategy. Engagement and deterrence go together: one will not succeed without the other; they are mutually supporting. But that is not how the administration seems to understand it. They see the two as inimical: one either has a "friendly" relationship with China or a "hostile" one. Engagement is the route to the first, deterrence, to their way of thinking, leads to the second. Therefore deterrence is traded off in pursuit of engagement.

Nowhere is this pattern clearer than in our dealings with Taiwan. To be fair, the United States has shown itself on balance to be a very good friend to Taiwan: through unofficial contacts, military sales, and the carrier deployment in 1996, we have underlined our commitment to this brave and democratic society. However, when China confronts us, some in government still show a lamentable tendency to sign chits on Taiwan's future as a way of appeasing Beijing today. This practice has already gone too far, and should be stopped. I hope very much that President Clinton will stonewall any such Chinese demands in preparation for his trip: for example, he must refuse to incorporate the so called "three noes" into any official U.S. statement. [These are "no support for one China one Taiwan," "no support for Taiwan's entry into the UN", and "no support for Taiwan's independence."]

Looking to the future, it is important that we be as realistic about Taiwan as about China. Our current Taiwan policy of no official recognition or contact works against our national interests. Given that the Taiwan Strait is an area of potential conflict on a level with Cyprus or Korea or the Middle East, it is important for us to have maximum contact with all players, in order to have maximum leverage. I have a student, an army Colonel and a career China specialist-a key player, in other words, in our Asia policy-who, because of US government restrictions, has never been able to visit Taiwan. This amounts to tying our own hands. When I look forward, I ask how we are going to be able to secure our interests in the Straits area if our top officials cannot meet top officials from Taiwan. Arafat, after all, has come to the White House, not to mention Jiang Zemin, China's unelected president. No genuine dialogue or negotiation can take place at second hand yet we have, of our own accord, discarded, in the Taiwan relationship, all the standard tools of diplomacy.

Why? The answer is simple. In the 1970s, when we broke relations with Taiwan, we thought we were in fact ending Taiwan's existence as an independent player. The idea was, as Richard Holbrooke has put it in a different context, "a decent interval followed by anschluss." The arrangements proposed by the Carter administration for Taiwan make sense as a transitional structure, but not as a permanent status. Contrary to expectations, however Taiwan did not disappear: that is owed first of all to the people of Taiwan, whom we underestimated, and second, to the many Americans who created the legislative instrument of the Taiwan Relations Act.

Unfortunately some in government are still living in the 1970s when it comes to Taiwan. But objectively we must recognize that in our eagerness to please China-trading off deterrence for engagement-we (and Beijing) have painted ourselves into a corner with our joint policy of debasing words and twisting diplomatic usages in an attempt to deny reality. Despite the urgings of those who want more chits signed-who want, for example, official US opposition to Taiwan in the UN and international organizations, or want a freeze in arms sales, or want pressure on democratic Taipei to settle with autocratic Beijing-it is clear that today we must, just for starters, drop the brush and stop painting. The corner is already too small. Then we and Beijing can consider more realistic and constructive approaches.

Important as Taiwan is, however, too much focus on it can lead us to overlook the larger regional and international context of our China policy. This brings me to my final and perhaps most important point. I fear that by making China the centerpiece of its Asian policy, instead of working with regional powers that share our values to create a multilateral security structure, the Clinton administration may be unwittingly recreating the sort of situation in Asia that has repeatedly led to trouble in Asia earlier in this century. For example, many scholars believe that an American overestimation of China and underestimation of Japan in the 1920s and 1930s contributed to the breakdown of Asian security that brought on World War II. We must not repeat those errors now that the Cold War no longer gives structure to our Asian policy.

The lesson of history is that American interests in Asia will best be served by working with states that share our economic and political values: Japan, Korea, Taiwan, the ASEAN states, India, Russia. We hope that China will become such a state in the future, but that result is not a certainty. Rather, as we have seen, China's future today is a question mark.

In the 1970s our current China policy took its initial shape from the demands of the Cold War. It was "strategic": driven by the need in both Washington and Beijing for an ally against the Soviet threat. That threat has now disappeared, so it makes no sense to talk, as the Administration does, of a "strategic partnership" with China*. The sorts of massive strategic issues that dominated the Cold War world no longer exist globally. Their place has been taken by what I call "governance" issues, and on these China lags far behind the rest of the world. During the Cold War shared strategic interests overshadowed these problems but today we can no longer avoid facing them. A liberalizing China will strengthen peace, but a China whose government attempts to sustain an outmoded dictatorship will be volatile domestically, and possibly dangerous in a world of democracies.

So until China matches her economic progress with political liberalization and a peaceful foreign policy, America's Asian policy should avoid staking too much on Beijing. Some in Washington seem to think that if only we can get China policy right, then the rest of Asia will somehow fall into place. The truth is the opposite: Asian policy is like a jigsaw puzzle with China the last piece to be fit in. Things will go well with China only if we place our primary emphasis on our traditional friends and states that share our values and economic system. If China reforms and makes herself stable that will be a great gain for all concerned. But we cannot cause that to happen and if we count on it and things go wrong, then problems in China may lead, as they did earlier in this century, to crisis in the region.

Our goal therefore must be to forge an Asian security order robust enough not to be shattered by tremors originating in China. What sort of policy will meet this requirement? First, it must be one understood and supported by the American people. The thirty year tradition of secrecy in China policy, of Congress and the White House at loggerheads, of executive actions in the teeth of public opinion-all of that must come to an end. The administration must be candid with the American people and the world about every aspect of the policy, from the good things, such as releases of prisoners and mutually advantageous trade, to the problems-such as espionage, military development, repression, and so forth.

Second, the policy must begin with our allies and friends, and not with Beijing. Our policy today is reactive: it makes no sense on its own (why derecognize Taiwan?) but is intelligible if you look at the Chinese demands that have given it shape. We must adopt a positive policy, developed through extensive preliminary consultation with other interested states. Symbolic actions are important here. Taiwan, after all, took the brave action of releasing political prisoners and allowing the exiles to return at a time when it had almost zero international status. Korea and the Philippines have shown the path to Asian democracy. China, which is far stronger, has shied away from any similar action. Yet which state receives the most symbolic attention and deference from the United States? Not the democratizers. In an Asia where "face" is so important, these things matter.

Finally, as for power relationships, among the crucial ones are Japan-US and Japan-Korea. If these are firm, I am confident that Asia will be relatively peaceful. If, on the other hand, we do what Administrations have repeatedly done in the past: if we treat China as a sort of campaign stop, or wave her into the community of nations without checking her domestic credentials -- if we go long at the moment when we should be hedging or shorting-if we turn a blind eye to security challenges and neglect our established friends with whom we share values in pursuit of new but highly problematical relationship -- then Asia's future, and with it our own, will be very much in question.

Arthur Waldron 14 May 1998

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