Taiwan Communiqué No. 86, June 1999

20 years Taiwan Relations Act

In April 1999, it was 20 years since the Taiwan Relations Act was enacted. Taiwanese-Americans appreciate the role this US law has played in the developments in our homeland.

Because of its clause on human rights, in the early 1980s it was a basic reference for those in Congress, in the Taiwanese-American community and in Taiwan itself, who pushed for human rights and democracy. This resulted in the end of Martial Law in 1987, and in the subsequent blossoming of democracy. The TRA was a helpful tool in achieving those results.

It also contains important clauses on determination of Taiwan's future by peaceful means, peace and security of the Western Pacific area, provision of defensive arms to Taiwan, and maintenance of US capacity to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system of the people on Taiwan. These have been very helpful in safeguarding Taiwan's security against China's threats, as we witnessed in March 1996 during the Chinese missile crisis.

The TRA falls short

Still, we argue that the TRA falls far short in three areas:

1. It does not provide a framework for the US to deal with a fully democratic Taiwan. Indeed, it has become a hindrance, in that US officials generally hide behind the TRA, saying it provides for "unofficial" relations with Taiwan.

The language in the TRA referring to human rights ("...the preservation and enhancement of the human rights of all the people on Taiwan are hereby reaffirmed as objectives of the United States") falls short of endorsing that the people of Taiwan have the right to determine their own future under the principle of self-determination, as laid down in the Charter of the UN.

2. The TRA also falls far short in helping Taiwan's membership in international organizations. The language of the TRA states: "Nothing in this Act may be construed as a basis for supporting the exclusion or expulsion of Taiwan from membership in any international financial institution or any other international organization."

This language may not directly endorse Taiwan's membership in international organizations, but it does state US policy as specifically opposing exclusion or expulsion of Taiwan.

In spite of this, the successive administrations have done very little to ensure that Taiwan's voice in international organizations is heard. The best the Clinton Administration has been able to come up with is that Taiwan's application for membership in the World Trade Organization should be considered on its own merit, and not linked to China's application.

Taiwan's efforts to become a member of other organizations have faltered and languished to a large part due to the lack of resolve of The Clinton Administration and its predecessors. Indeed, the Clinton Administration took a step backwards in its Taiwan Policy Review in September 1994, when it added the qualification that it would only support Taiwan's membership in organizations "...where statehood is not a requirement." This qualification was totally new: it cannot be found anywhere in the Taiwan Relations Act, nor in any other previous document.

3. The third area where it falls short is in the area of safety and security. Over the past years, the United States had become more aware of the Chinese threats to Taiwan, especially since the 1995-96 Chinese missile crisis, and has become more flexible in granting permission for the sale of defensive equipment.

However, as has now been well-documented in the Cox report, the United States has also become the prime source of nuclear and rocket technology that China can use in its threats against Taiwan. The safety and security of Taiwan has thus certainly not improved, but rather deteriorated.

Resolutions sail through Congress

Congress marked the 20th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act with the adoption of two resolutions, one in the House (H.Con.Res 56) and one in the Senate (S.Con.Res. 17). The two similar sounding resolutions emphasized the close ties between the United States and Taiwan, and praised the Taiwan Relations Act for its contribution to peace, security and stability in the Taiwan Strait.

The resolutions also expressed the grave concern of Congress about China's military modernization and weapons procurement program, especially the ballistic missile capability, and urged to Clinton Administration to seek from China's leaders a renunciation of any use of force in resolving the problem across the Taiwan Strait.

The resolutions also asked the Clinton Administration to report annually to Congress on the military balance across the Taiwan Strait, and to be informed of request for weapon purchases from Taiwan.

The resolutions expressed their support for a further dialogue between Taiwan and China, and urged the Clinton Administration to support Taiwan's admission to the WTO on its own merits.

House Resolution 56 was approved by a 429-1 vote in the US House of Representatives on 23 March 1999, while Senate Resolution 17 was approved unanimously by the full Senate on 12 April 1999.

"Out-of-the-box" thinking

The 20th anniversary of the TRA was also marked in Washington by a whole series of events. At one of the events, an interesting statement was made by Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Mr. Stanley Roth. In a presentation on 24 March 1999 at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Mr. Roth referred to the talks between Taiwan and China and argued for "out-of-the-box" thinking, i.e. less emphasis on old ideas, and more flexibility.

Of course the main institution that requires some "out-of-the-box" thinking is the State Department itself. It has been mired in the anachronistic "One-China" policy of the 1970s, while the situation in Taiwan has drastically changed, and State has failed to keep up. There are even some State Department officials who maintain that Taiwan is not a nation-state, and who argue that Taiwan could only join international organizations "...that do not require statehood."

Taiwan Communiqué comment: If the Department of State continues to dig itself into a trench with such fallacies, it will find it difficult to extract itself from these untenable positions. We must remind State that the "crisis" surrounding President Lee's visit to Cornell in 1995 was to a large part caused by the fact that State had maintained for so long that Mr. Lee would not be granted a visa .... only to be overruled by the White House after unanimous votes in Congress.

It would thus be wise for Mr. Roth to come "out-of-the-box" himself, and to plan a strategy for the US to support Taiwan's acceptance by the international community as a full and equal member.

As was stated in an excellent recent editorial-page article in the Washington Post by Mr. Fred Hiatt ("The China Muddle", 30 May 1999), the rationale of the U.S. China policy used to be to provide a counter-balance to the Soviet Union. However, when the Soviet Union collapsed (and the rationale disappeared), the policy just kept going — out of habit. Mr. Hiatt argues that the US should stop slighting the democracies of Asia for fear of offending the Beijing regime, and start sorting out where its real interests lie.

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