During the past few months, there has been a debate in Washington about the US position vis-à-vis Taiwan. On the one side, one finds a majority of Republicans and a number of liberal Democrats, who feel that the present policy is inadequate, because it perpetuates Taiwan's isolation and takes an insufficiently firm stand against China's threats against Taiwan. They point to the Clinton Administration's lack of support for Taiwan's participation in international organizations, and the Administration's downplaying and even silence in the face of the Chinese missile buildup and overt threats against Taiwan.
On the other side, one finds the Clinton White House, the State Department, and a small group of Republicans (mainly influenced by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger), who pose that the main policy item should be to "engage" China, and that Taiwan should keep quiet and not rock the boat. They argue that the present framework, the Taiwan Relations Act, " ain't broke, so don't fix it."
We argue here that the TRA is broke, so it needs to be fixed. While it is obvious that the TRA has fulfilled a useful function over the past 20 years, we believe there is no reason for self-congratulatory back-slapping which we witnessed on the occasion of the TRA's twentieth anniversary in April 1999: as we have argued before (see Taiwan Communiqué no. 86, pp. 11-13), the TRA falls short on three major points:
1. The TRA was written when Taiwan was ruled by a repressive regime, which claimed to be the rightful ruler of China. Since then the Taiwanese people have transformed the island into a fully-democratic country that wants to be a full and equal member of the international community. The TRA does not provide a framework to deal with a fully-democratic Taiwan, and has become a hindrance in that US officials generally hide behind the TRA, saying it provides for "unofficial" relations with Taiwan.
An important side-note on this point: neither the TRA nor any of the associated documents uses the word "unofficial" to describe the relations with Taiwan.
2. The TRA also falls short in helping Taiwan's membership in international organizations. While the language of the TRA states that it opposes the exclusion of Taiwan from international organizations, successive administrations have done excruciatingly little to support Taiwan's participation in international organization.
The Clinton Administration even surreptiously took a step backwards, when in 1994 it added the qualification that it would only support Taiwan's participation in organizations " where statehood is not a requirement." Neither the TRA nor any other policy document contains such constraint. In the 1970s, de-recognition simply meant that the US _ and other Western nations _ did not recognize the Kuomintang regime in Taipei as the government of all of China. No position was ever taken on Taiwan's position as a nation-state.
3. The third area in which the TRA fall short is in the area of safety and security. The language of the TRA is reasonably firm and clear: "It is the policy of the United States to consider any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means, including by boycotts or embargoes, a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the United States" (Sec 2.b.4).
However, this statement has been undercut time and again, when the Clinton White House and State Department hemmed and hawed when China deployed increasingly large numbers of missiles on the coast facing Taiwan, and remained silent when China threatened Taiwan with military attack and invasion following President Lee Teng-hui's "state-to-state" statement in July 1999.
It is thus necessary for the United States _ and for other Western nations to adjust their policy towards Taiwan to the new circumstances, and move towards normalization of relations with Taiwan. May we thus suggest a new Normalization of Taiwan Relations Act?
During the past few months, a few American academics have started to make a peculiar argument: the United States "should not be drawn into a conflict between Taiwan and China". They have also tried to imply that Taiwan _ and in particular Mr. Lee Teng-hui are the source of tension in the Taiwan Strait by"being provocative."
If we may take these points one at a time:
1. It was the United States which drew Taiwan into the conflict between the Chinese Nationalists and the Communists by allowing the Chiang Kai-shek regime to occupy Japan-held Taiwan in 1945, and by letting Mr. Chiang to position himself on the island in his futile quest to "recover" the mainland.
As we have pointed out earlier: the Taiwanese on the island were not part of the Chinese Civil War, and became unwilling victims when the US condoned forty years of undemocratic martial law. In the 1980s and early 1990s, through their own persistent efforts, the Taiwanese were able to end martial law and make a transition to a democratic political system.
One of the results of this democratic transition is that the Taiwanese want to discard the old structures which were part and parcel of the animosity between the former undemocratic rulers in Taipei and China. At the same time, they wish to maintain their hard-won freedom and democracy, and wish to move towards peaceful coexistence with China as an independent country. However, oddly enough, this is now being portrayed as "provocative".
2. It should be clear to even the most simple-minded observer that it is China which is being provocative by aiming missiles at Taiwan, threatening to blockade and even invade Taiwan, and by trying to isolate the island in the international community. Taiwan is not threatening China in any way.
The Clinton Administration has, wittingly or unwittingly, aided China's tactics by making reckless and irresponsible statements such as the "Three No's" in Shanghai in June 1998, and by ritually reciting that it has a "One China" policy, without making clear how its "One China" definition differs from the one held by Beijing.
Any mention of "One China" plays into the cards of the Chinese Communist leaders in Beijing. If Mr. Clinton wants to be scrupulously neutral between Communist China and democratic Taiwan he should simply state that he insists on a peaceful resolution of the issue. Period.
However, we do believe that _ since the United States claims to be the leader of the free world _ it should side with a democratic Taiwan and support Taiwan's membership in the international community as a full and equal member.
It should thus be clear that the United States has a distinct responsibility for the safety and security of Taiwan, and that it should hold a firm position vis-à-vis China, precisely to prevent a confrontation from taking place. History has shown that appeasement never works.
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