The crisis in the Taiwan Straits in February and March 1996, created by China's missile tests and military maneuvers suddenly evaporated after March 23rd, election day in Taiwan. However, the underlying tension is still there, and the Chinese apparently haven't gotten the most basic message of the episode: that the Taiwanese people want to be left in peace, and do not want to be embraced in a smothering Chinese stranglehold of repression, underdevelopment, corruption, deceit and duplicity. During the past two months, Chinese spokesmen have continued to rant against Taiwan's efforts to raise its international profile.
One important positive development which came out of the March episode, was the decision by the Clinton Administration to position two aircraft carrier battle groups near Taiwan, in a clear signal to China to moderate its behavior.
One of the aircraft carriers was appropriately named USS Independence, which prompted DPP Legislator Shen Fu-hsiung and a number of prominent members of the Democratic Progressive Party in Taipei to stage a friendly demonstration in front of the American Institute in Taiwan (the informal American embassy) with a big banner, saying "Taiwan Welcomes (uss) Independence."
In the United States and Europe, many demonstrations were held in major cities to protests the Chinese aggression. The biggest gathering was held on Monday, 18 March 1996, when Taiwanese Americans from all across the country converged in Washington D.C. to protest the Chinese missile tests and military exercises near Taiwan.
The protest activities began with a rally in front of the White House with speeches by Professor Chen Lung-chu and other Taiwanese dignitaries. The group appealed to President Clinton and the U.S. Congress to express America's grave concern by making defensive weaponry available to Taiwan, and by dispatching the battle groups U.S.S. Independence and Nimitz through the Taiwan Strait. They also urged the United States to support Taiwan's membership in the United Nations, and to revoke most-favored-nation (MFN) status for China.
Taiwanese crowd in front of the Capitol in Washington
The crowd then wound its way through downtown Washington in a mile-long parade along Pennsylvania Avenue, Independence Avenue, past the Washington Monument and along the Mall to Capitol Hill. Along the way, they chanted "One Taiwan, One China", "China, hands off Taiwan", "China, out of Tibet", "Recognize Taiwan Independence", and "Taiwan is Taiwan, China is China."
They gathered on the steps of the U.S. Capitol Hill, overlooking the Mall, and in the distance the symbol of American independence, the Washington Monument. Here they heard statements from U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell, and Congressmen Matt Salmon, Sherrod Brown, Peter Deutsch, Robert Torricelli, and several Taiwanese dignitaries.
The crowd later reassembled in front of the Chinese embassy on Connecticut Avenue to express their outrage to the Chinese representatives. They demanded the immediate cessation of all hostile actions toward Taiwan, and declared that the future of Taiwan is to be determined by the Taiwanese people themselves, without any outside interference.
During the past weeks, both the Clinton Administration and its Republican opponents have attempted to (re)define their policies towards Asia in general, and China in particular. These statements come against the background of the tensions caused by China's repressive practices in China itself and Tibet, its bullying of Taiwan, and the debate on trade issues MFN, copyrights, and non-proliferation (see our article on page 14).
Republican candidate Robert Dole launched the debate on 9 May 1996, with his long-awaited Asia policy speech at the center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC. While Mr. Dole accused President Clinton of causing diplomatic damage to U.S. relations in Asia through "weak leadership, vacillation and inconsistency", he joined the President in supporting extension of Most Favored Nation status for China.
He also proposed a "Pacific Democracy Defense Program" to develop and deploy a high tech missile defense system for Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and other U.S. allies in Asia. Presumably this would be a defense against Chinese missiles.
Regarding Taiwan, Mr. Dole emphasized that the United States should make its commitment to "..the peaceful resolution of the difference between China and Taiwan clear." He stated that the Clinton Administration policy of ambiguity only sends signals of uncertainty. He stated that US policy should be "unmistakably resolute": "If force is used against Taiwan, the US will respond."
Mr. Dole specifically advocated to include Taiwan in his proposed Pacific Democracy Defense Program, and urged that the US make advanced defensive weapons, such as the AMRAAM air-to-air missile, the shoulder-fired Stinger, coastal submarines and other anti-ship and anti-submarine weapon systems available to Taiwan.
On 17 May 1996, Secretary of State Warren Christopher gave a speech to three New York-based Asia-related organizations, in which he outlined his policy towards China. Although the speech was touted as Mr. Christopher's first major foreign policy speech on China in three years, he didn't get very much beyond reiterating the old and worn-out "One China" policy. The only "new" element in Mr. Christopher's speech was that he proposed to have regular summit meetings with Beijing.
A few days later, on 20 May 1996, President Clinton himself addressed U.S. relations with Asia in a speech to the Pacific Basin Economic Council in Washington D.C. Mr. Clinton formally announced his support for MFN-status for China, arguing that revoking MFN for China "...would drive us back into a period of mutual isolation and recrimination that would harm America's interests, not advance them."
He stated that "Rather than strengthening China's respect for human rights, it would lessen our contact with the Chinese people ... limit the prospects for future cooperation (limiting the spread of weapons of mass destruction) .... Rather than bringing the stability to the region, it would increase instability as the leaders of Hong Kong, Taiwan and all of the nations have stated repeatedly."
Taiwan Communiqué comment: although we commend Mr. Clinton's good intentions and share his desire to see China become a responsible member of the international community, we see serious flaws and contradictions in his present policy: it combines a bit of the earlier "strategic ambiguity" with the more recent "constructive engagement" approach: it is becoming "ambiguous engagement."
In his speech Mr. Clinton says that the US will "...stand firm for a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue." This is commendable, but he proposes to do this "...within the context of the One-China policy, which has benefited the United States, China, and Taiwan for nearly two decades." This is a contradiction in terms. There was no causal effect whatsoever between the "One China" policy and the positive developments on Taiwan. If anything, the democratization in Taiwan came about in spite of the "One-China" policy. As we indicated earlier, Taiwan's transition towards democracy was first and foremost the achievement of the Taiwanese democratic movement. This movement also initiated the push towards international recognition.
That American interests are best served by maintaining friendly relations with China maybe the case in abstract terms, but certainly not when this is done at the expense of the democratic rights of the people of Tibet and Taiwan, and at the expense of the basic principles on which the United States and the United Nations were founded.
U.S. interests and those of other Western nations are first and foremost served if we hold high the basic principles of "...equal rights and self-determination of peoples" (Article 1.2, Charter of the United Nations) and those of human rights and democracy. These rights are as valid for the people of Tibet and Taiwan as for anyone else, and give them the right to determine their own future free from coercion by China.
Cuddling up and kowtowing to China in the hope that China somehow mends its ways like Mr. Henry Kissinger and Mrs. Feinstein are suggesting is plainly gullible. It will only embolden China to further violate international agreements and trample the rights of other peoples. The United States and Western Europe should stand together and ensure that China understands it needs to play by some basic rules of conduct, honesty, decency, and respect for other nations and peoples.
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