Taiwan Communiqué No. 88, November 1999

Normalize Taiwan Relations

It's time to accept a clear reality

The developments over the past few months are new reminders that it is time for the international community to normalize relations with Taiwan. The island-nation has lingered in its political quandary for too long.

The reasons for the diplomatic isolation are historical: the fact that the Kuomintang authorities there -- for all too many decades after they were driven from China -- kept up the fiction that they were the rightful rulers of China. From the 1950s through the end of the 1960s, the West went along with this pretense -- to the detriment of the PRC.

However, when this situation was redressed with the acceptance of the PRC in the UN in the early 1970s and the normalization of relations between the US and the PRC in the late 1970s, another fiction was created: Taiwan was not considered a full member of the international community and was treated as an international outcast.

The subsequent rise of Taiwan as a major economic player in Asia, and its democratization in the 1980s and early 1990s, have now resulted in its status as a full-fledged nation-state in East Asia, and a prime example of how people in Asia can bring about a flourishing democracy.

Just like it was correct to end the first fiction in the 1970s, it is high time to end this second fiction as we move into the 21st century. The international community _ and in particular the United States _ should welcome and embrace Taiwan by normalizing relations and establishing diplomatic ties with the island-nation.

As for China: its interests would be best served if its leaders would cease looking at Taiwan through the dark and distorted glasses of its long-gone Civil War, and would start with a clean slate by accepting Taiwan as a friendly neighboring state.

"One China": Dangerous ambiguity

As we have argued before, the Clinton Administration has not shown creative thinking on this issue, and has displayed a tendency of drifting towards Beijing's position by clinging to the ambiguous "One China" doctrine, thereby creating a dangerous situation in East Asia, and for Taiwan in particular.

One-China dragon

If one asks Clinton Administration officials whether the US "One China" doctrine recognizes China's claim that Taiwan is part of China, then the result is general confusion: a number of them say no, while some say yes.

The nay-sayers will be able to recite the original text of the Shanghai Communiqué of 1972, in which the US only acknowledged the Chinese position, which stated that "...all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China." In this formulation, the United States thus only takes note of the Chinese position, but says that it itself does not take a position.

However, over the years, an increasing number of Administration officials failed to make this distinction, and stated that the US has a "One China" policy _ without further elaboration _ and thus edging closer to Beijing's position. When asked recently how the US "One China" definition differed from the one defined by Beijing, one State Department official said he didn't quite know....

Taiwan Communiqué comment: If the Clinton Administration wants to be truly impartial on the issue of the future of Taiwan, it needs to return to the position that this matter needs to be determined peacefully, and in accordance with the principles of democracy and self-determination as enshrined in the Charter of the UN.

Any statements which display a dangerous bias — such as the reckless and irresponsible "Three noes" pronounced by Mr. Clinton in Shanghai in July 1998 — need to be retracted. It should be replaced by a statement saying that the US will respect the democratic wishes of the people of Taiwan, and will help ensure that other nations in the region will abide by those decisions.

Some constructive statements

In spite of the general criticism of the Clinton Administration as indicated above, we have noted some rays of hope: recently there have been some constructive, but little-noticed, statements from several members of the Administration.

In the beginning of September 1999, Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asian Affairs, Mrs. Susan Shirk, addressed a gathering of Chinese businessmen in Bethesda, MD, and issued a wide-ranging rebuke to Beijing for its antagonistic policies towards Taiwan. She warned China that even in the eventuality that Taiwan declares independence, "…the use of force would be catastrophic for China as well as for Taiwan, and of course disastrous for U.S.-China relations …So even in such an eventuality we would urge China not to use force."

Mrs. Shirk added that even a limited attack by China in the run-up to Taiwan's presidential elections next March would likely lead to a reaction by Washington. "Any military action, no matter how small, is likely to trigger a United States reaction", she said.

At the end of September 1999, in another important clarification of US policy towards Taiwan, Dr. Richard Bush, the head of the American Institute in Taiwan, stated in a speech to the Taiwanese-American community in Los Angeles: "..that , because Taiwan is a democratic system, any arrangements concluded between Beijing and Taipei must ultimately be acceptable to the Taiwan public."

Furthermore, he commented on the "One-China" concept, saying: "the United States does not, and never has, shared the PRC's view of the 'One-China' Policy."

Dr. Bush also said that the U.S. Administration is not taking a position on the "state-to-state" statement made by Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui, since this would go to the substantive core of the differences between Taiwan and China. He emphasized that the U.S. has always addressed the process, stating that it supports a peaceful resolution of the conflict, but the United States does not take a position on the end-result, he added.

Taiwan Communiqué comment: We welcome these clarifications by these Clinton Administration officials. It would indeed be helpful if they were made by Mr. Clinton himself and by his Secretary of State Mrs. Madeleine Albright.

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