Taiwan Communiqué No. 101, May 2002

The demise of "strategic ambiguity"

Bush airplane
President Bush: "What? Did I just run down another PRC airplane?"

During the past several months, it has become increasingly clear that the Bush Administration has ditched the old "strategic ambiguity" concept. Under this policy, previous administrations did sell defensive weapons to Taiwan, and kept a US military readiness in the Far East, but didn't state unequivocally that the US would help defend the island in the case of an attack by China.

The tide started to change in April 2001, when the newly-elected president Bush stated that he would do "whatever it took" to help defend Taiwan. Since then, the US Administration has followed a consistent policy of gradually warming up to Taiwan, not only approving significant arms sales, but also directly assisting Taiwan in modernizing and streamlining its armed forces, and establishing better political communication and contact with the authorities in Taipei.

At the same time, the US started to urge the Chinese authorities to reduce the threat to Taiwan by dismantling the 350 + missiles positioned along the Chinese coast aiming at Taiwan, and by emphasizing a peaceful resolution of the conflict. In doing so, the new administration avoided the muddling and misstatements of the Clinton Administration.

The new policy line caught the attention of both the Far Eastern Economic Review ("It's unambiguous: `strategic ambiguity' is dead", 25 April 2002) and the Washington Post, which highlighted it in an article by reporter John Pomfret ("US expresses new fondness for Taiwan", 30 April 2002). A State Department official was quoted as saying: "Taiwan is not looked at as a problem anymore, but as a success story."

Taiwan Communiqué comment: This new clarity of the Bush Administration is a welcome sign that the US is finally moving away from outdated policies of the 1960s and 1970s, which have no relevance to the present-day new and democratic Taiwan. A new situation requires new policies.

The anachronistic "One China" policy should go next. It was devised at a time when there were two Chinese regimes competing for recognition as the government of China. There was no Taiwan claiming international representation yet, since the country was under the brutal repression of the Chinese Nationalists.

Since then, the Taiwanese people have turned their island into a free and democratic nation, which simply wants to be recognized as a full and equal member of the international community. If the democratic Western nations wish to uphold the principles of freedom and democracy, there is no sound reason to continue to isolate this newly democratic country of 23 million people.

Normalizing Taiwan relations

On the next few pages, you find two essays that have a normalization of policy towards Taiwan as their main theme.

The first essay is an OpEd by Mr. James Wang, a prominent Taiwanese journalist in Washington DC. He used the 5 April 2002 referral by President Bush to the "Republic of Taiwan" as a starting point for a discussion of the changes in US policy. Mr. Wang then presents a historical perspective, and argues that it is high time for the rest of the world — including China — to accept the reality that Taiwan has become a free and sovereign nation deserving international recognition.

The second essay is an editorial from the Taipei Times, which uses the 50th anniversary of the 1952 Taipei Treaty between Japan and the Chiang Kai-shek regime to shed new light on Taiwan's international status, and urges the Chen Administration in Taipei to start an active campaign to tell the world the truth about Taiwan's legal position under international treaty law.

It's time the world accepted reality

By James Wang, a Washington-based Taiwanese journalist. This article first appeared in the Taipei Times on 18 April 2002. Reprinted with permission.

diplomacy rowboat
Taiwan's "diplomacy rowboat", held back by pro- unificationists clinging to the anachronistic "One China" rock

Referring to Taiwan as "The Republic of Taiwan," US President George W. Bush caused an uproar in China and a ripple in Taiwan.

As expected, Beijing asked for clarification and government-controlled media expressed their dismay and indignation. That is routine. No matter whether the remark is intentional or a slip of tongue, Beijing has no choice but to protest and put their position on the record. As a matter of necessity, China loads protests to the US whenever it perceives any American action as violation of its "one China" principle.

Even though Taiwan has been a separate country for more than half a century, China will do whatever it can to weaken Taiwan's separate identity and make its claim of sovereignty over Taiwan more credible.

China would not admit it, but it is obvious that it has no legal base to claim sovereignty over Taiwan except insisting that Taiwan and the international community accept its "one China" principle. Taiwan as a democracy cannot and should not fall into this trap. Neither should the US.

In contrast to the one-voice negative reaction in China, the reactions in Taiwan were as usual more divided. The pro-independence or pro-status quo forever majority deeply appreciated hearing Bush call a spade a spade. The small but vocal pro-unification camp shared its outrage with the Chinese against Bush and presumed that Bush misspoke.

I can understand China's reaction, but I am puzzled by the reaction of the tiny pro-unification group in Taiwan, which was part of the staunch anti-communist regime in the martial-law era. Now they prefer to live in Taiwan but want to see Taiwan under China's control. To be sure, the constitutional name of Taiwan is not the Republic of Taiwan. But Taiwan is a well-known name for the area across the Taiwan Strait independent from China. Politically Taiwan is a republic. Is there a name better suited to identify this country than the Republic of Taiwan?

After more than half a century of political evolution, the ROC has been "Taiwanized," no longer claiming to be or being recognized as the government of China. The battle over China representation was over in 1971 when the ROC was soundly defeated and expelled from the UN. To continue to claim that the ROC represents China should be considered as "provocative" to China and crazy.

The only way for Taiwan to survive as an independent state is to build up its separate identity through the democratic process.

When the KMT was in power, the authorities refused to adopt a new separate identity because it could cost them their legal basis, however false it was, for ruling Taiwan. Legally speaking the sovereignty of Taiwan should belong to either the people of Taiwan or China. No wonder Chiang Kai-shek would rather have "jade broken than an earthen tile intact."

Chiang's hard line approach was not necessarily shared by all ruling mainlanders. According to recently declassified diplomatic files, then US ambassador Walter McConaughy reported to Washington after the UN expulsion in 1971 that then-vice foreign minister H. K. Yang told him that for Taiwan to survive it is necessary to declare that "the government of Taiwan is entirely separate and apart from the government on the mainland and that henceforth the government here will have nothing to do with the mainland."

According to McConaughy, Yang said that the declaration should prescribe a new designation for the government, namely, "The Chinese Republic of Taiwan." It would be stipulated that the term Chinese did not have any political connotation but was used merely as a generic term stemming from the Chinese ethnic origin of the population in Taiwan. It would be used in a way similar to the manner in which various Arab countries use "Arab" in their official government titles.

Of course, Yang's efforts are now history. But it showed that Yang understood that, technically, the legal status of Taiwan had yet to be determined.

For the ROC to have a legal case for ruling Taiwan as a sovereign state, it has to give up its claims of representing all of China — already a lost cause — and become the government of Taiwan. In that sense, Bush cited almost the same name for Taiwan as suggested by Yang some 30 years ago. Both terms point to the fact that Taiwan is a separate state.

Through democratic processes, the people of Taiwan have made it clear that Taiwan is a sovereign state. Constitutionally it is still the ROC, but it is "entirely separate and apart" from the government on the mainland and has nothing to do with China.

Eventually Taiwan may be able to call a spade a spade and everyone would be proud to be a citizen of the Republic of Taiwan, which would co-exist peacefully with its neighbors, including the PRC.

Chen must break from KMT legacy

This editorial first appeared in the Taipei Times on 29 April 2002. Reprinted with permission.

Yesterday (28 April 2002 -- Ed.) was another melancholy anniversary, the 50th of the signing of the Treaty of Taipei. This was the peace treaty that ended World War II between Japan and the ROC. Much has been made of this treaty and most of it complete rubbish. It is simply one more brick in the false edifice of KMT claims to have "recovered" Taiwan.

Actually the Treaty of Taipei established no ROC claim on Taiwan for the very simple reason that the Japanese had already given up all its claims to Taiwan through the San Francisco Peace Treaty the year before. It could not transfer sovereignty of Taiwan to the ROC since it did not possess that sovereignty. In fact the Treaty of Taipei reiterates that Japan had already given up that sovereignty in the San Francisco treaty.

What the treaty represents, in fact, is Japan making peace with the government of China, which was not a party to the San Francisco deliberations because of the problem of deciding which of the rival claimants was the real one. Japan eventually decided, no doubt helped to a decision by its US overlords, that the ROC was still the legitimate government.

The only part that Taiwan and Penghu played in the treaty was in the reiteration of Japan's claim to them and the statement by Japan that henceforth it would treat these territories as part of China. Note that it didn't say it was giving them to China, because they weren't Japan's to give.

Nevertheless, when Japan switched recognition from Taipei to Beijing in the 1970s and signed a treaty with the PRC, its so called "recognition" of China's "sovereignty" over Taiwan was used by the PRC to its advantage in establishing its "one China" doctrine. As such, the Treaty of Taipei, along with the 1945 surrender of Taiwan to ROC occupying forces and the Potsdam and Cairo declarations, is part of that amazing feat of diplomatic legerdemain, China's (no matter which one's) claim to Taiwan. The simple fact is that Taiwan's status was left open in San Francisco, this was not changed in the Treaty of Taipei and the island is still, under international law, awaiting a decision on its final status by the San Francisco signatories.

That the KMT tried to cover up the lies by which its military occupation of Taiwan was disguised as "retrocession" should come as no surprise. What is depressing is the complacency with which President Chen Shui-bian has accepted the situation he inherited from the KMT. In the past two years this president has done nothing to change the world's perception of Taiwan.

The legal question of Taiwan's status needs to be better understood if only because the KMT clouded the issue for so long with its lies and its own "one China" policy, a piece of shortsightedness which played into Beijing's hands and yet may prove fatal to this democratic polity. Too much of the world thinks that China must have a claim on Taiwan but sympathizes that Taiwanese don't want to live under Chinese rule, much as it was well understood that China had a claim on Hong Kong but the residents of that colony were dubious about rejoining "the motherland."

Taiwan needs to destroy this false impression. Talking about the "Republic of China", a state that in most peoples' eyes ceased to exist in 1949, won't do. Nor will talk of Taiwan's democratic achievements, which do not in and of themselves establish a right to remain free of China's yoke. What is needed is an active campaign to tell the world the truth about Taiwan's legal position under international treaty law. That the Chen government has not done this but instead kept on with the failed diplomatic postures of its awful KMT predecessor forces us to ask why. Is the president complacent, a moral coward or simply lazy?

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