By Lim Kokui, Legal Counsel, DPP-mission in the US
Recently, the chairman of Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Mr. Shih Ming-teh, led a delegation of legislators and ranking DPP party members to Washington and New York to publicize the continuing military threat China poses to Taiwan's democracy. The September 13 to 18 visit which included substantive conferences, meetings, press conferences, and public rallies underscored the pressing security concerns of Taiwan's largest opposition political party.
As the United States' fifth largest trading partner, a stable democratizing nation in Asia, and an economic powerhouse contributing to regional prosperity through capital investments and direct financial aid to developing countries, Taiwan's safety and security should he of great concern to Washington. At least, that is what the casual observer would expect.
On the contrary, support for Taiwan, though forthcoming, was nonetheless cautious and hesitant. Why? Simple, "China." Indeed, some academics in Washington these days blame Taiwan for "antagonizing" China when the issue of the island's sovereignty is discussed. Increasingly, appeasement is apparently the norm being embraced in some academic and political circles here in Washington when dealing with Beijing.
However, to find fault with Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party for advocating the island's de jure independence is to find democracy itself erroneous. Rather than acknowledge that the DPP's views on independence reflect the 40% of the popular vote it represents, some observers conclude that tension between China and Taiwan should lay squarely on the shoulders of Taiwan. This is an escapist approach which at best postpones the United States' inevitable need to address the current crisis emerging from China's attempts to reinstall its Imperial rule in East Asia. The so-called Asia experts who advocate a "One-China Policy" in which Taiwan is relegated to being a "province" of China, are out of touch with today's reality.
Rather than look to outdated policies premised on a situation dating from the bad old days when Taiwan, too, was under a one party dictatorship, those interested parties need to reevaluate the situation - sans personal business interests, existing or potential - when discussing the "Taiwan question." Can any sound argument be made for the current "One China" policy ? Doubtful. After all, Taiwan independence is a natural procession in the island's democratization. What pundits fail to admit is that regardless whether Taiwanese choose to seek independence or not, China will pursue hegemony over the island, come hell or high water. Nor does the status quo favor Taiwan, as some would argue.
Indeed, the status quo serves China's interests by opening wide Taiwan's existing window of vulnerability. It gives Beijing time to expand its military parity vis-à-vis Taiwan, further eroding Taiwan's international standing, and weakening Washington's long-term influence in the region. At best, it buys Washington a little bit more time to do nothing. It is wholly inappropriate for Washington to wag its finger at Taiwan while ignoring China's recent provocation by holding military exercises off the coast of Taiwan. That some scholars advocates that the U.S. avoid support for Taiwan's self-determination, or that other experts caution of war should Taiwan declare independence fails to address the heart of the matter: China's threats against Taiwan's democracy.
This begets the question, what is the United States' responsibility ? Surely, to ask Taiwan to sit idle because Washington is unwilling to stand up for the island is unacceptable for the reasons mentioned above. Rumors that the Clinton Administration will issue a fourth communiqué or its equivalent to placate Beijing only aggravate the situation. Washington's experience of being beaten over the head by China with the three existing communiqués speaks volumes about the horrors a fourth communiqué portent. For starters, Washington should abide by its 1979 Taiwan Relations Act which mandates that the United States make available adequate defensive weapons to safeguard Taiwan's security. Chairman Shih's comments that the Taiwanese wish to purchase advanced defensive arms to maintain the military parity across the Taiwan Strait and deter a Chinese invasion are valid.
Commentators' fears that Washington's sale of advanced defensive arms to Taiwan will incite an arms race with China are misplaced. China is not a rational power playing by the rules of international civility. Any cursory review of China's alarming military buildup, arms procurement from Russia, sale of nuclear technology to Iran, testing of nuclear weapons, or territorial expansion into the South China Seas should convince the casual observer of otherwise. That Chairman Shih would make a visit to Washington to alert our U.S. counterparts about the growing China threat in the region underscores the seriousness with which we view China's unjust claims.
Next, the United States should make clear its support for the outcome of Taiwan's democratization process. The United States has been midwife to Taiwan's maturing democracy. In fact, Taiwan's 21 million people will exercise the right of suffrage next March in the island's unprecedented first direct presidential election. The forthcoming election and its precipitating developments are exercises in democracy reflecting a trend in Taiwanese society which the DPP and Chairman Shih represent, the right of Taiwanese to govern Taiwan.
Moreover, the election has greater implications than at first appear, implications that have not gone unnoticed by Beijing. After the March 1996 elections, Taiwan will have all the elements of a sovereign, democratic nation -- including a democratically-elected head of state -- severing once and for all any tenuous claim Beijing may assert over Taiwan. Should Taiwan seek to assert its independence ? United Nations membership ? How about asking Taiwan's 21 million people ? This is what will happen in the upcoming presidential elections. Should we cancel these elections ?! After all, this is what"antagonizes" Beijing the most. Of course not: Taiwan is a democracy, and democracy dictates that we ask the Taiwanese people.
During the past two months, members of both the US House of Representatives and the Senate wrote letters to President Clinton and Secretary of State Warren Christopher to express their concern for Taiwan's safety and security. The moves were obviously prompted by China's belligerent behavior and by the missile crises of July and August. On the Senate side, Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-Connecticut) is planning to introduce a Resolution urging President Clinton to review Taiwan's defense needs, in accordance with the provisions of the Taiwan Relations Act (Public Law 96-8). Below we present some excerpts from the letters and the text of the Resolution.
One of the earliest and strongest expressions of concern came on 26 August 1995, from three members of the US House of Representatives, Messrs. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Peter Deutsch (D-Fl), and Robert Torricelli (D-NJ). In a letter to Secretary of State Christopher, the three Congressmen termed the Chinese missile tests "...a threat to international peace", and stated that it represented "...the continued failure of the current Beijing government to respond positively to our policy of constructive engagement." They urged the US government "...not to reward such irresponsible behavior on the part of the current government in Beijing."
The three Congressmen further stated that "In an increasingly interdependent world, tension between Taiwan and China is hardly a Chinese internal affair .... Rather, the rising tension between Taiwan and China is a legitimate concern to the entire international community." They also emphasized: "What escapes many observers in the United States is the simple fact that Taiwan is not part of China. Instead, it fulfills all international law conditions for statehood. Since the Nationalist fled to Taiwan in 1949, the communists have not exercised any control over Taiwan -- even for one day."
The three Congressmen then stated: "Indeed, we believe that Taiwan is an independent sovereign country. The reliance on a "One China" formulation by both the ruling party in Taiwan and the Communist Party in China serves each group's narrow political agenda's, but it is ultimately unrealistic. This outmoded approach to a decidedly sensitive issue now jeopardizes the safety, security and livelihood of 21 million people in Taiwan. Therefore it is of utmost importance that all sides begin to withdraw from the unrealistic "One China Policy" claims."
"Indeed, we believe that Taiwan is an independent, sovereign country .... it is of utmost importance that all sides begin to withdraw from the unrealistic "One China Policy" claims." U.S. Congressmen Sherrod Brown, Peter Deutsch and Robert Torricelli
The three also criticized the State Department's lame argument -- made during a 3 August 1995 hearing in the House Foreign Affairs Committee -- that the July missile tests did not constitute a threat to Taiwan. Quoting Committee Chair Benjamin Gilman, they asked which distance would constitute an imminent threat, and when the State Department would take action: "Tests within 80 miles or 50 miles of Taiwan's coast, or what ?"
The three concluded their letter by stating that they appreciated the complexity of the issue and the delicacy with which the United States must approach it, but that they believed that "...the interests of international peace and the fate of 21 million people in Taiwan should not be held hostage by the truculent mindset of the current government in Beijing." They also emphasized that in shaping its own policy on Taiwan, the United States "...should not be intimidated in any way by the belligerent actions of the Beijing gerontocracy."
A second letter was written by several House members to President Clinton in the beginning of October 1995. In this letter, the signatories criticized the hostile conduct of the PRC, which was designed to "...intimidate both Taipei and Washington into changing our relations." The signatories stated: "We want to express to you in the strongest terms our conviction that American policy cannot be coerced by Beijing's bluster.... In no way should we allow the PRC to dictate the terms of US-Taiwan relations."
Referring to the upcoming meeting between Mr. Clinton and Mr. Jiang Zemin, the signatories urged Mr. Clinton "...to reinforce the American commitment to Taiwan and our displeasure with recent Chinese intimidation tactics." The signatories also spoke out against a "Fourth Communiqué", saying that in the 1972 Shanghai Communiqué, the US simply acknowledged the Chinese view that there is but one China. However, this in no way obliges the US to undercut Taiwan's legitimate moves over two decades later to play a stronger role in the international arena.
Finally, on 10 October 1995, US Senators Paul Simon (D-IL) and Larry Pressler (R-South Dakota) initiated a letter to President Clinton in which they strongly condemned the Chinese missile tests as "...unwarranted and alarming military muscle-flexing, designed to intimidate the people of Taiwan and provoke a reaction in the international community." The Senators stated: "We are concerned about the destabilizing effects of these actions on the security of the East Asia region, and on the free exercise of democratic rights by the people of Taiwan. The PRC's actions had a clear and detrimental impact on Taiwan's security."
The Senators then referred to the provisions of the Taiwan Relations Act, which requires the President to inform the Congress promptly of any threat to the security of the people of Taiwan, and discuss with Congress the appropriate measures to be taken by the US. They concluded by stating: "Aggressive, unprovoked actions and undisguised threats by a non-democratic power against an emerging democracy in east Asia are clearly detrimental to the national interest of the United States as well as those of US allies in the region."
In the middle of October 1995, there were indications in Washington that several prominent members of the US Senate, including Mr. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) were considering introducing a Resolution to express their concern about safety and security for Taiwan. As this issue of Taiwan Communiqué was going to press, the draft text of the Resolution was as follows:
Expressing the sense of the Senate that the United States should express its concern about the safety and security of Taiwan
Whereas United States' interests are served by supporting democracy abroad; Whereas Taiwan is a model emerging democracy, with a virtually free press, free and fair elections, and stable and democratic institutions;
Whereas United States' interests are best served by policies that treat democratic leaders with respect and dignity;
Whereas the Congress of the United States voted near unanimously to welcome the President of Taiwan to visit the United States;
Whereas, from July 21 until July 26 and from August 15 until August 25, 1995, the People's republic of China carried out a series of surface-to-surface ballistic missile tests, live artillery tests, and joint air and sea forces combat exercises in the seas 80 miles off the coast of Taiwan to protest the visit to the United States of Taiwan's President;
Whereas these combat exercises caused serious concern for the safety and security of the people of Taiwan;
Whereas, in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act, the United States is obliged to make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient defense capability;
Therefore be it Resolved that the United States Senate; the House of Representatives Concurring -- 1. Declares that any attempt by the People's Republic of China to threaten the safety and security of Taiwan is a matter of grave concern to the United States; and 2. Calls upon the President of the United States to review the defense needs of Taiwan, in accordance with the terms of the Taiwan Relations Act (Public law 96-8).
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