Taiwan Communiqué No. 67, August 1995

US - China relations on the downslope

Power struggle in Beijing the real reason

The downturn in US - China relations is certainly a fact. There are however, different analyses possible on what caused it, and what can be done to avoid further problems.

It has become conventional wisdom to say that the June 1995 visit by Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui to Cornell was the reason for the "free fall", as some observers called it. The Beijing authorities certainly used Mr. Lee's visit, as well as the growing trend towards independence on the island, as an excuse to kick up a verbal storm and to start flexing its military muscles.

However, several prominent analysts have noted that the Chinese belligerence reflects the ongoing power struggle in Beijing, in anticipation of the demise of Deng Xiao-ping. They argue that the Chinese authorities are only too eager to divert attention from what is going on inside the Chinese backrooms, by kicking up a storm of invectives and political mud in the direction of the United States and President Lee Teng-hui.

This point was made by veteran China analyst Orville Shell ("Bluster from Beijing", Washington Post 13 August 1995) and by Georgetown law professor James Feinerman in his testimony before the US Congress (3 August 1995, House subcommittee on Asian Pacific Affairs). According to their analysis, the slide in US -- China relations are thus primarily caused by the tension within China itself, as several factions maneuver for power in the post-Deng Xiao-ping period. If the visit of President Lee had not happened, China would have found another convenient scape-goat issue.

It is also essential to emphasize that it was not a one-sided Republican Congress which forced Mr. Clinton's hand in giving approval to Mr. Lee's to visit the US. Both in the House and the Senate, the respective Resolutions were passed with the largest possible majorities, 396 - 0 in the House, and 97 to 1 in the Senate. Support for Taiwan in the US Congress is as bipartisan as it can be.

Gingrich and Kissinger: from gaffe to blunder

In the beginning of July 1995, House Speaker Newt Gingrich looked like the person who would bring a breath of fresh air into the discussion on Taiwan. In a CBS "Face the Nation" TV interview on 9 July 1995, in the context of a discussion on what the US could do to free Harry Wu, Mr. Gingrich stated that the United States should formally recognize Taiwan "as a free country." He added: "the US should tell the Chinese they would have to live with the reality that the people of Taiwan are a free people."

However, a few days later the New York Times ("The schooling of Gingrich, the foreign policy novice", NYT, 18 July 1995) reported that Mr. Gingrich said that he "...didn't really mean it" and that he had just said it to "rattle the cage, to get China's attention."

Taiwan Communiqué comment: Mr. Gingrich was right in expressing his support for recognizing Taiwan as a free and independent nation. This is reality, and trying to pretend otherwise amounts to an ostrich policy. However, Mr. Gingrich made his mistake in trying to use Taiwan to pressure China. As argued in more detail elsewhere in this Taiwan Communiqué, it would be wise for the US and other nations to de-link their consideration of ties with Taiwan from those with China.

The reason for Mr. Gingrich's remarkable flip-flop was none less than "Mr. China" himself, Henry Kissinger. Concerned that his opening to China made 25 years ago would go down the drain, Mr. Kissinger had sternly lectured his erstwhile protg, and told him to retract his statement.

At the end of July, Mr. Kissinger came with his own prescription for salvaging his US -- China axis: in testimony before the US Congress and in exactly similar Op-Ed articles in the Los Angeles Times, International Herald Tribune, and the Washington Post, he stated that 1) the Clinton Administration should restart a political dialogue with China, by reaffirming the provisions of existing agreements, 2) Beijing should end its hard line and take seriously issues about which Americans feel deeply -- such as nuclear proliferation and the fate of Harry Wu, 3) The US Congress should stop ad hoc measures and work for a joint course with the administration, and 4) Taiwan should think again before pressing America on a course which, in the end, could isolate Taiwan.

Taiwan Communiqué comment: In his analysis Mr. Kissinger totally overlooks the fact that virtually all of the problems were due to China's unruly behavior. As former US ambassador Harvey Feldman rightly states ("China, What Kissinger leaves out", Washington Post, 1 August 1995), Mr. Kissinger said absolutely nothing of China's massive rearmament, including the purchase of advanced fighters and submarines from Russia. Similarly, in scolding Congress, Mr. Kissinger is totally silent on the issues that forced Congress to become involved: threatening moves in the South China Sea, Prison labor, export of nuclear and missile technology, and of course human rights.

On the issue of Taiwan, Mr. Kissinger seems to have totally missed the political evolution on the island towards a free, democratic political system. He treats it as an irritant in the relations with China. In fact, Taiwan is a vibrant, dynamic country with 21 million people whose international political status has been hanging in limbo, to a large part due to the shortsighted policies of the Kuomintang leadership itself, and in part due to the fact that the international community still has to fulfill its obligations to the island stemming from the 1952 San Francisco Peace Treaty (see article below).

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