Taiwan Communiqué No. 100, February 2002

Report from Washington

Holbrooke can't get it straight

On 2 January 2002, Mr. Richard Holbrooke — the former US ambassador to the UN who would have become US Foreign Secretary if Al Gore had won the November 2000 Presidential elections _ wrote an article in the Washington Post, titled "A defining moment with China." In the article, he argues that the US and China should conclude a new "Fourth Communiqué."

The next day, the Bush Administration immediately countered that no "fourth communiqué" was necessary, and subsequent newspaper editorials and articles also rejected the idea (e.g. Jim Mann's excellent article "We don't need a new accord with China" in the Washington Post, 11 January 2002).

While Mr. Holbrooke has a long history as a US civil servant and as a diplomat _ he was part of the negotiations with China on the 1978 normalization of relations with China as an assistant secretary of state in the Carter administration — he was never really able to grasp the basic issues relating to Taiwan and was generally considered very China-leaning. A foreign 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" (see "Dangerous diplomacy," in Taiwan Communiqué no. 79, February 1998).

On the following pages, we present yet another riposte to Mr. Holbrooke; this one by former US ambassador Nat Bellocchi.

A fourth communiqué is not needed

By Nat Bellocchi, former chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan

This article first appeared in the Taipei Times on 27 January 2002. Reprinted with permission.

It remains very unclear just what motivated a public suggestion that the US consider negotiating a fourth communiqué with China. A very China-friendly former US president, Bill Clinton, publicly had his administration turn down the idea toward the end of his term in office. In an article written by Richard Holbrooke, former US ambassador to the UN, Holbrooke attributes the idea to the opportunity to better relations with China brought on by the new war on terrorism.

Fourth Communiqué tune
US to pro-China "Fourth Communiqué" lobby: "Please let me eat my meal in peace."

China is not exactly in the forefront of this war, neither ideologically or geographically, and there have been several other reasons given by experts in subsequent articles why this is not any better an idea now than it was during the last government. I'll add a few more.

One reason for considering a new documentation for the US relationship with China, Holbrooke argued, includes the enormous changes that have taken place since the era when the three communiqués were written. In the process of all these changes, however, the ambiguity of the present documents, rules and laws that comprise the relationship often allowed the flexibility needed to avoid crises.

When the US announced it was willing to sell F-16s to Taiwan, the communiqué notwithstanding, for example, it was "interpreted" to be no change in policy. It was based on an "understanding" in the negotiation of the communiqués about arms that were no longer available.

Ambiguity has its downside, of course and even the Taiwan Relations Act has its share of it. Whenever a threat exists to Taiwan, under the act the US executive branch must consult with Congress in deciding what to do about it. So how does the executive branch avoid the unwanted participation in the decision? Don't ever use the word "threat" in reporting to Congress, i.e. no consultation. But this is not something a fourth communiqué could address, as it is an internal US affair.

Another habit that would continue despite any future communiqué is what may be called the policy-statement creep. Senator John Glenn, a participant in writing the act, made a speech on the Senate floor in July of 1982 when the communiqué was about to be revealed, charging the State Department with deceit.

Since 1972, he said, the department claimed continuously there had been no change in our China policy. In 1972, he went on, the US declared that it acknowledged that the Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintained there was but one China and that Taiwan was a part of China. While we would not challenge that statement, we would remain neutral on the subject.

In the 1979 communiqué, however, the US acknowledged "the Chinese position that there is but one China" moving the US closer to the Chinese interpretation. He then went on to complain that the administration was moving even closer to the Chinese position in the then forthcoming third communiqué.

This same phenomenon occurred as Clinton moved from the 1996 missile crisis to the "three no's," and then after strong domestic complaints, seemed to move in another direction by declaring the "three pillars" of US China policy and then to the "assent of the people of Taiwan" requirement. The three pillars: one-China policy, dialogue and peaceful resolution, were in fact simply the US' one-China policy since 1972, now divided into three parts.

Another characteristic of US China policy that a fourth communiqué would be unlikely to change is the wide scope of our disagreements. I recall having to take Maureen Reagan to make a courtesy call on then vice premier Li Peng. Before doing so, I called the late Gaston Sigur, who was then assistant secretary of state, as her briefing paper was much too brief.

After some thought, Gaston said that given the short time we had, his best advice was to tell Reagan that she could talk about anything she wanted to, but to warn her not to talk about any subject too deeply. Scratch below the surface of any issue, he said, and you will find controversy. That advice would not be too far off even today.

Would a fourth communiqué continue to avoid stating the US position on Taiwan's sovereignty, which is that the sovereignty issue is still to be determined? Since China will not accept that, it seems that position is simply not mentioned. Will a "one China" be defined? It now has a different meaning to different people. Will it state the difference between a one-China "principle" (China) and a one-China "policy" (the US)? Not likely. So would yet another communiqué provide clarity or would it simply continue ambiguity? If the latter is the likely result, who needs it?

Then there is an interesting pattern that becomes apparent in considering why the subject is being brought up now. The 1972 communiqué came while Vietnam was still very much a distraction for Congress and the American public. The 1979 communiqué came while the difficult issue of the Panama Canal Treaty had drawn Congressional attention. The 1982 communiqué was negotiated when the first sign of a crack in the Iron Curtain was drawing everyone's attention. Is the war on terrorism now seen as a similar useful distraction?

Perhaps the most pertinent question is would a fourth communiqué even matter? When it is felt necessary, nations have always decided on what needs to be done and then provided a public reason for doing so, with or without having some document that seems to say otherwise.

On the other hand, if the purpose of another communiqué is just to make China happy, which usually comes at the US' expense, let's forget it. A new communiqué that seems to bolster a country that has different objectives than America can only diminish the US' ability to be a leader in safeguarding democracy and stability in the region.

Taiwan Communiqué 100

On these pages we generally focus attention on political developments in and around Taiwan. For a change, we want to write a few lines about ourselves, since this is the 100th issue of our Communiqué. What a change the past 22 years have brought about!

When we started in 1979-80, Taiwan was still under the repressive Kuomintang, which ruled the island with a Martial Law dating from 1949. Our primary purpose at that time was to focus attention on human rights in Taiwan, and to obtain the release of the tangwai ("outside-the-party") members who had been imprisoned following the December 1979 Kaohsiung Incident.

Today, Taiwan has a democratically-elected government. We are pleased to have been part of its remarkable transition to democracy and hope that our writings are playing a small role in fostering understanding in the outside world _ particularly the United States and Europe _ of developments on the island, and of the desire of the people of Taiwan to be a a full and equal member of the international family of nations.

The editors

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