Don't Desert Taiwan

By: Frank Murkowski

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 words.

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 communist China.

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.

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