Former U.S. Ambassador Nat Bellocchi: "Three Encouragements for Taiwan"

Testimony before the

House International Relations Committee

Subcommittee on East Asia

Washington, 20 May 1998. Mr. Chairman, I thank you and the committee for this opportunity to express my views on some of the issues regarding the U.S. Taiwan relationship. I have just returned a week ago from my second visit to Taiwan in the last two months. As usual, domestic politics generates the most interest in both the media and in private conversations. The legislature is struggling with the budget, and preparing for the election of the 4th Legislative Yuan at the end of the year. Already there is considerable speculation on the next presidential elections that take place less then two years hence. Taiwan will have a new president then , but who that will be is far from clear at this time.

The next most talked about subject is cross-straits relations. Here the most immediate point of interest, aside from the resumption of talks between the two sides, is the summit meeting scheduled for next month in Beijing between Presidents Clinton and Jiang. I found people there generally ambivalent about what they think the summit will mean for Taiwan. There remains a strong residue of trust that the U.S. will not harm their interests, but at the same time there is great concern that the pressures generated by a summit meeting between these two powers that have such importance for them, will bring some gain to the PRC at Taiwan's expense.

Another reason behind the concern was the visits to Taiwan by several former senior U.S. Government officials in past weeks who apparently gave the impression of representing U.S. Government views on cross-straits issues, many of which are hardly shared by the authorities there. These officials and many others, including the media, have intermingled the word "dialogue" and "negotiations" in discussing resumption of cross-straits talks, causing more speculation and concern.

This heightened concern is contrary to the government on Taiwan's policy of lowering tensions between the two sides of the Straits. Aside from the security dangers involved, higher tensions negatively impact on the economy. There is, therefore, an interest shared with us to resume a "dialogue" that would continue on as a channel of communications between the two sides. "Negotiations", on the other hand, are seen to mean addressing political issues, which would have just the opposite effect, that is, it would raise tensions. It will take considerably more time before sufficient trust exists between the two sides to address these more difficult issues.

Yet another reason for concern is the PRC efforts to place unacceptable political conditions for resuming talks, and its use of the media and visitors from the U.S. to promote a 4th communiqué, reduce arms sales to Taiwan, and press the U.S. to make commitments regarding Taiwan's future status.

A 4th communiqué clearly would be of domestic benefit for the leadership in Beijing, and inevitably would include some concessions on Taiwan, but it has been resisted by all administrations almost since the third one was signed. Since the Clinton-Jiang summit meeting in Washington last year, in fact, Beijing has been referring to the "three communiqués and the joint statement", putting the latter post- meeting statement on an equal plane with the communiqués. It is not. It may play well domestically in the PRC, but another communiqué would be of no benefit to the U.S.

The U.S. has and should continue to resist any effort to limit our capacity to decide matters about our arms sales to Taiwan. Our ability to maintain flexibility has served our interests well over the years. Further communiqués will only restrict our ability to adapt to the changed circumstances on both sides of the Straits, an important factor not only for Taiwan but to the broader regional implications of our security commitments in East Asia.

Furthermore, at the time we agreed to the '82 Communiqué, we gave Taiwan six assurances that remain of fundamental importance to them. These assurances are well known but never publicly stated as such by the U.S. side. I believe these can be found in the Congressional record as being that the U.S.:

  1. did not agree to set a date certain for ending arms sales to Taiwan.
  2. did not agree to engage in prior consultations with Beijing on arms sales to Taiwan.
  3. sees no mediation role for the U.S.
  4. has no plans to seek revision of the Taiwan Relations Act.
  5. has no change in our long standing position on the issue of sovereignty over Taiwan.
  6. will not attempt to exert pressure on Taiwan to enter into negotiations with the PRC.

Their formal status is unclear, and apparently not the equivalent of the communiqués. A public statement of this commitment would do much to raise their status, and reassure the people of Taiwan.

Our policy with regard to Taiwan's future status, we have repeatedly said, is a matter for the two sides to decide. Yet, especially in circumstances such as summit meetings, we have been pressed by the PRC to refine this statement of policy. First by adding that we do not support (Beijing urges us to "oppose", an entirely different position) two Chinas, or one China - one Taiwan; and more recently, Taiwan independence and Taiwan membership in the U.N. We get no benefit from limiting options, even ones we may not want to see as long as they are opposed by Beijing. We get no quid pro quo for making Beijing feel more comfortable, and limit our own leverage should we ever want to use it.

The possibility that the U.S. might discuss such matters clearly makes Taiwan very uneasy. Time is needed to develop a consensus in Taiwan on the Taiwan - PRC relationship before that island can be prepared to address a formal relationship with Beijing. The excitement, brought on by democracy, of openly debating the issue of Taiwan's political status has already moderated to a surprising degree in only a few short years. A greater degree of consensus has been reached, but it is a slow, laborious process. One must remember that some political leaders who now hold the responsibilities of elected office spent time in jail for their political views not very long ago.

The differences among the people on the subject of national identity remains Taiwan's most vexing problem. When one recalls a few years ago, representatives were cast out of the National Assembly for refusing to take the oath of allegiance to the Republic of China. The resulting student demonstration, Taiwan's largest ever, at the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial in the center of Taipei, was calmed by President Lee, Teng-hui talking to them personally and promising a National Affairs Conference to address their concerns. This was only a year after a far different method was used to disburse the students gathered in Tien An Men. Since then, extremist actions have calmed considerably, and in a second national conference a few months ago, some important steps were agreed toward forming a better consensus on Taiwan's national identity. There is still much to be done, but progress has been made.

The leadership of the opposition party, which has as its objective the independence of Taiwan, has moved closer to the middle ground on the cross-straits issue. It is unlikely the party could renounce its objective, but increasingly that becomes a long-term ultimate objective much like unification is for the ruling party. In the meantime, other policies of the two main parties are not far apart. Aside from this one issue, there are some differences over economic policies, but few on matters of security and foreign policy. Time could help to bring even greater consensus among the people on the island.

There is also in today's Taiwan a situation that resembles the kind of split government we have here in Washington. The ruling party holds the executive branch, the legislature is almost equally divided, and the opposition holds most local government posts. As we know, this kind of situation calls for skill, patience, and compromise to resolve problems.

Examples of this were seen in the process of amending the constitution recently. Each amendment had to be balanced by another to satisfy both the ruling party and the opposition. This is also true in the critical cross-straits relations. Movements to strengthen economic relations with the PRC to satisfy one constituency, for example, must be balanced by movements to gain more international support as a separate entity to satisfy another constituency.

The PRC, of course, does not accept this political reality on Taiwan, and seems to have increased its efforts to isolate Taiwan in the international community. To some, efforts by Taiwan to expand its international participation seems provocative, given the PRC opposition. It is, however, a matter of survival for Taiwan. Without international support Taiwan would be at the mercy of the PRC in negotiating or even discussing a future relationship.

One of the reasons Congress, in the TRA, assured that arms sales of defensive weapons should continue even after the break in relations was to provide Taiwan with the confidence it would need in future dealings with the PRC. The latter has always strongly opposed this program, and has continually pressed the U.S. to phase it out, almost succeeding in the '82 Communiqué. Yet American insistence on continuing the program has helped to maintain stability in the Straits - a fundamental American interest - and permitted the people of Taiwan to develop their economy and establish their democratic political system.

The same could be said of supporting participation by Taiwan in international organizations. It would be strongly opposed by the PRC, but it would be in our interest to have a Taiwan contributing its resources and knowledge to the international community, and subjecting itself to the same rules we observe. Even in the Taiwan Policy Review , it was recognized that "Taiwan has a legitimate role to play in a number of international issues, and it is in the general international interest and our own for Taiwan's voice to be heard by appropriate international organizations." Unfortunately, that recognition did not generate any improvement in our policy, on the contrary, the U.S. went the opposite direction by indicating it would not support Taiwan's entry into any international organization that required statehood - which includes the most important ones, i.e. those in the U.N. system.

Some form of membership in these organizations could also provide a useful platform for meetings between the two sides thereby contributing to stability. In answering those who would like the U.S. to take a more active role in resolving the cross-straits issue, we usually reaffirm our policy that the U.S. does not want to broker that difficult issue itself, but to help create the atmosphere for the two sides to do so themselves. I agree. But one of the best platforms would be an international organization in which the two sides could meet informally in a neutral setting. In addition, like the arms sales program, taking part in international activities would give Taiwan the confidence to face the future in dealing with the PRC. Unfortunately, our policy supports the PRC in isolating Taiwan from these organizations.

Innovative special memberships for some international organizations could be developed for Taiwan that would make it possible to keep within whatever commitments we have with the PRC. The present Asian Financial Crisis is demonstrating once again, as it did during the Persian Gulf War, that it serves no one's interest to keep Taiwan, with its resources and capabilities, from contributing to the international community's needs. As for Taiwan, where will it turn for help, should it need to do so, if it has a financial crisis? To the IMF? Or the World Bank?

In the Taiwan Policy Review, completed three years ago, and meant to adjust our relationship to accommodate to the changes that have occurred in Taiwan, among other things, we limited ourselves to supporting Taiwan's entry only to those international organizations that did not require statehood. That would not prevent developing special memberships in those that do, but even the narrow interpretation given to what we would support has had no result - to my knowledge not even one. Aside from arms sales, international support is Taiwan's most critical need. Yet, our policy does just the opposite - by saying we do not support Taiwan's participation, we support Beijing's efforts to isolate Taiwan from international organizations.

The Taiwan Policy Review recognized that profound changes have taken place in China and Taiwan, and the study was an effort to accommodate changing circumstances there. Despite the profound nature of the changes, however, the study admitted that the adjustments made were only refinements of existing policy.

In fact, it limited itself to toying with elements of conducting the relationship, not in addressing any substantive issues. Was this not the time to face up to broader questions, for example, such as we did in 1972 when we accepted that realistically we had to deal with the PRC, and established liaison offices in each other's capitals? The far more restrictive system established for Taiwan in 1979 may have been appropriate at a time when it was generally believed that Taiwan would soon be absorbed by the PRC. But today's Taiwan is clearly a de facto country that in its present form or in some other, is likely to be around for quite some time.

The system for conducting an "unofficial" relationship was entirely devised by us. There is nothing in the communiqués or any other agreement with the PRC that spells out how we are to conduct this relationship, other than it was to be "unofficial". We then proceeded to devise one that is based almost entirely on what we thought the PRC would think about any particular activity. Thus we spelled out a very intricate, complex, expensive and inefficient system of doing business with each other without seeming to do so, for Beijing's benefit. At times this makes us appear silly. I.e. prescribing what buildings these supposedly private persons from Taiwan can enter, for example; or dangerous, i.e. no military contacts whatever even when our ships or planes of the seventh fleet even routinely operate in the Taiwan Straits area.

If we wish to provide greater encouragement to Taiwan in addressing its relationship with the PRC, I suggest three actions we could take in this regard:

  1. we could make our six assurances to Taiwan a matter of public record through a statement from the Administration or through legislation.
  2. we could establish a policy that we will support Taiwan's participation in some form in international organizations to which it can make a clear contribution.
  3. we could further revise our own rules on conducting this unofficial relationship to allow more realistic opportunities for dialogue between us, including at senior levels.

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