Washington Times, April 29, 1998. With news that
President Clinton is advancing the date for his ensuing state visit
to China, a number of proposals, or trial balloons, are beginning to
surface on the subject of a dialogue between Taiwan and the People's
Republic of China (PRC.)
One possible balloon recently was floated by former Assistant
Secretary of Defense Joseph Nye. Al least his ideas may be seen as a
balloon, given his previous service in the Clinton Administration.
Mr. Nye's comments are simply the latest indication that the
Administration, in their effort to pressure Taiwan to negotiate with
Beijing, continues to look to third parties to apply this pressure.
I, for one, would welcome the resumption of a fruitful dialogue
between Taiwan and China. Unfortunately, this dialogue was
terminated by Beijing in 1995 in a fit of pique over the visit of
Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui to Cornell University.
The U.S., however, would do well to ensure that it takes place on
mutually satisfactory terms. We promised Taiwan in 1982, as one of
the "six assurances" that we would never pressure the
island into direct negotiations with the communist authorities on
the mainland. Recently we seem to be reconsidering our previous
The thesis of these messages, and the whole tone of the
Administration's recent messages to Taipei delivered through a
parade of former government officials, is very troubling. Former
Secretary of Defense William Perry, former Joint Chiefs of Staff
Chairman John Shalikashvili and former National Security Advisor
Anthony Lake have all made "informal" visits to Taiwan in
recent months. Reports of these meetings indicate that the message
was twofold; Taiwan cannot count on U.S. cover against Chinese
attack if it declares independence and it should start negotiations
with China. In effect, they are saying that the Taiwanese should
hasten to sit at the negotiating table with a nuclear power that
refuses to renounce the use of force against them.
A significant short-term U.S. policy goal should be to press
communist China to abandon its threat to use force against Taiwan.
These are not idle threats. Indeed, during Taiwan's 1996
presidential election, China conducted missile tests in the Taiwan
Strait - an act that brought two U.S. carrier groups into the area.
The result was a dangerous situation brought on entirely by
A U.S. initiative to secure a renunciation of force by Beijing
would do even more to facilitate a meaningful dialogue than
suggestions already offered. Perhaps most important, it would allow
our democratic friends in Taiwan to negotiate with Beijing without a
gun to their heads. The administration's messengers have said that
the U.S. should publicly announce that it will not defend a decision
by Taiwan to declare independence. While I agree that it is
undesirable for Taiwan to make such a declaration, I think such
logic is backwards. We certainly do not want to encourage the notion
that democratic Taiwan is ripe for the taking.
Our policy of creative ambiguity has long served U.S. interests.
Our readiness to display force as we demonstrated two years ago when
China tried to bully Taiwan and intimidate the island's people out
of holding free presidential elections, was also beneficial. We
should not change this policy.
The U.S. should continue our commitment to support democracy in
Taiwan, and, as outlined in the Taiwan Relations Act, to supply
Taiwan with the capability for their own self-defense.
Finally, the Administration's messengers suggest that there is
nothing but second-class status in Taiwan's future and that Taiwan
always will have a minor role in international organizations. The
United States should not endorse such a fate. With creative
solutions, Taiwan could assume its full and rightful place in many
international organizations. The Clinton administration, whether it
is through current officials, former officials or trial balloons,
should not walk away from Taiwan.
President Clinton is scheduled to travel to Beijing for a second
summit with President Jiang Zemin of China in June. I would urge him
to keep in mind that Taiwan's vibrant democracy and resilient
economy are worthy of our support and respect. More specifically, I
would urge him to press China to renounce the use of force if there
is ever going to be direct dialogue.
The U.S. policy should be to ease tensions and promote future
stability in the Asia-Pacific region, in a way that does not abandon
the people of Taiwan and the remarkable gains they have made for
democracy and economic prosperity.
Senator Frank Murkowski is a Republican from Alaska.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *