At the end of March 1997, Vice-President Al Gore and House Speaker Newt Gingrich went on separate trips to China. That's where the similarity ends. Mr. Gingrich had the courage to speak out and clearly warned China that if it attacks Taiwan, the United States will help defend Taiwan. Mr. Gingrich also included Taiwan in his itinerary, and met with President Lee Teng-hui in Taipei.
Mr. Gore, on the other hand, gave a lackluster performance. While he did discuss human rights and curbing international arms sales with Chinese officials, he seemed to want to downplay the Chinese influence-buying scandal, in which the Chinese government reportedly tried to funnel money to the 1996 Presidential and Congressional election campaigns, and skirted the Hong Kong issue, where the Chinese are slowly strangling fundamental human rights.
Mr. Gore and Li Peng
If Mr. Gore wanted to downplay the influence of big business on US policy towards China, he failed. The "highlight" of the visit seemed to be the signing of lucrative contracts for Boeing and General Motors. If Mr. Gore wanted to create an image of leadership, he also failed. The most lasting image of his trip was that he toasted champagne with Mr. Li Peng, the "Butcher of Beijing."
On the following pages, we publish an open letter to Mr. Gore, asking him what the United States stands for. We also reiterate the arguments for an end to the anachronistic and confusing "One China" policy, and adoption of a policy which strives for peaceful coexistence of Taiwan and China as two friendly neighbors.
What does America stand for ?
An open Letter to Vice President Albert Gore Jr.
During and after both Mr. Gore and Gingrich visited China, much was said and written about the "One China" policy. As Taiwanese, we consider this is an ambiguous and confusing concept, which should be discarded right away.
The major reason why this policy is now outdated, is that the situation in Taiwan has changed drastically: we have achieved a democratic political system, and want to be accepted as a full and equal member in the international community.
In 1945, Taiwan which was part of the Japanese Empire was "temporarily" occupied by the Chiang Kai-shek's troops on behalf of the Allied Forces. When Chiang lost his Civil War in 1949, he moved the remainder of his troops and government to Taiwan, and ruled with iron fist. In the "February 28" incident of 1947, his troops massacred between 18,000 and 28,000 leading figures in Taiwan's society. The Taiwanese people, who comprise 85% of the island's population, were thus oppressed, and became unwilling pawns in a bigger chess-game between the two Chinese adversaries.
From 1949 through the late 1960s the United States recognized the Kuomintang regime in Taipei as the government of "China." It held the seat in the United Nations, kept up the pretense of representing China and did not allow the Taiwanese any say in their political future.
When in the 1970s the United States and other Western nations recognized the Communist regime in Beijing as the government of China, the KMT's fiction was discarded, but was replaced by another fiction: the "creative ambiguity" of the Shanghai Communiqué, in which the Beijing authorities were recognized as the government representing China, but in which the United States stated that it "acknowledged" the Chinese position, that there is but one China, and that Taiwan is part of China.
Did the wording of the Shanghai Communiqué mean that the US "recognized" that Taiwan is part of China ? The answer is an unequivocal no. The US simply took note of the Chinese position, but did not state its own position on the matter. However, over time, this distinction started to blur, and some began to interpret the wordings of the 1970s as to mean precisely what they were not meant to be: "accept or recognize."
In any case, for the people of Taiwan any communiqué's between other countries such as the United States and China are not binding and of little relevance, because they were made without any consultation with, or representation of, the people of Taiwan.
In the past fifteen years a new situation evolved: we Taiwanese achieved our transition towards a democratic system. There is thus a new and democratic Taiwan, in which the overwhelming majority of the population does not want to be a part of a repressive, dictatorial, and corrupt China, but cherishes its own Taiwanese identity, language, culture, and newfound political freedom. This new nation wants to find its own place under the sun, contribute not only economically, but also politically to the international community, and be accepted as a full member of the international family of nations, in particular the United Nations.
It is necessary for the rest of the world, and particularly the United States and Europe, to live up to the principles of universality and democracy on which the United Nations were founded, to accept Taiwan as a full and equal partner, and recognize it under the heading of a new and realistic "One Taiwan, One China" policy.
This new policy would not alter international recognition of the authorities in Beijing as the government of the Chinese mainland, but would specifically state that according to the basic principles agreed upon in the context of the United Nations, it is up to the Taiwanese people themselves to determine their own future. It is up to the international community to guarantee that this is done freely, without any coercion by China.
Peaceful coexistence between Taiwan and China is good for both. It will also be beneficial for the East Asia region as a whole. Any "unification" of Taiwan and China would be disastrous for Taiwan and for China, because it can only come under force.
China would do well to accept Taiwan as a friendly neighbor, instead of perpetuating an old and anachronistic Chinese Civil War. The Taiwanese themselves didn't have anything to do with that Civil War and their future should not be held hostage to it.
by Paul Simon
Paul Simon is a former Democratic Senator from Illinois. He originally contributed this article to IntellectualCapital.com. Reprinted with permission.
Persona non grata. The vice-president and premier of a place where there is a multi-party system, free elections and a vibrant economy is being denied the right to enter the United States to attend meetings of the governing board of the University of Chicago, from which he graduated. Has he committed some criminal act to prevent him from visiting the United States ? No.
What has he done wrong ? His "mistake" is that he participated in the free elections in Taiwan and the official policy of the United States is to turn a semi-cold shoulder to Taiwan. To add to the irony, he recently returned from a visit to Nicaragua, Rome (the Holy See) and Ireland. He has also paid courtesy stops in other nations.
Don't ask. There is, as one Taiwanese official put it to me, "a quiet understanding" with the State Department that Taiwan will not ask permission for him to visit the University of Chicago, to save the United States the embarrassment of turning him down.
Why do we have this strange policy ? So that we will not ruffle
the feathers of China. Despite the fact that China is heavily dependent on the
United States in trade, when the Chinese dragon growls, the United States
quakes. China has a huge trade surplus with the United States, the largest of
any nation. We buy much more from them than they do from us. Yet our foreign
policy appears to be premised on our heavy dependence on them, rather than the
other way around.
I do not join those who want to cut off, or discourage, trade with China. While there is a huge inconsistency with our tough trade embargo with Cuba and our groveling attitude toward China, both of whom have bad human rights records, trade and cultural exchanges are more likely to change China (and, for that matter, Cuba) than is isolation.
But our attitude and actions should be more forthright and consistent.
Which side are we on ? China should understand that when we compare the repression of speech in China, to genuinely open discourse in Taiwan, the United States favors freedom; when we compare religious persecution in China with freedom of religion in Taiwan, the United States supports giving people their free choice; when this country compares the rigidly-controlled media of China with the diversity of published and broadcast expression in Taiwan, we are on the side of a free press.
However, our policy mutes that message. The United States officially recognizes governments with less than 100,000 people, but Taiwan, one of our major trading partners, with 21 million people and more currency reserves than any nation other than Japan, has to tolerate an unofficial behind-the-door relationship with us, lest we offend China.
Realpolitik and human rights, then and now. In his State of the Union message, President Clinton noted with pleasure that in this hemisphere there remains only one dictatorship. What he did not say is that much of the credit for that goes to President Jimmy Carter for his straight-forward and consistent talk about human rights, even when some "sophisticated" people in the diplomatic community derided him for it.
When Germany consisted of a government in the West and another in the East, we recognized the reality that there were two governments. While neither Germany appreciated our recognition of the other Germany, we had a policy based on reality, not illusion, and everyone understood our tilt toward the free government of West Germany rather than to the dictatorship of East Germany. And recognition of the two governments did not prevent them from eventually merging peacefully.
Today's reality is that there are two countries, the People's Republic of China and Taiwan. When the Soviet Union constituted our greatest threat, we tilted toward China, to keep them from a close relationship with the Soviets.
The world has changed since then, but our policy has not. It is true that when China started sending missiles close to Taiwan, immediately prior to that island's last election, the United States sent two aircraft carriers to the straits that separate the two powers. I applauded that action.
Time for a new standard. Our position needs to be articulated more clearly and combined with greater consistency on human rights. We should:
To announce that we will welcome China's president and dictator when he comes (and I do not oppose that) but treat Taiwanese officials who are freely elected in a less generous way, sends a message to the world that the United States stands for freedom and democracy unless it offends a neighborhood bully.
I favor dialogue with the bully, and trade, but not supine acquiescence.
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