On 18 December 2000, the US Department of Defense issued a report on the military balance in the Taiwan Strait. The report was designed to update Congress on the implementation of the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, which stipulates that the US will provide Taiwan with defense articles and services needed to defend itself, and also that the US should maintain a capacity to respond to the use of force against Taiwan by China.
The report, titled "Implementation of the Taiwan Relations Act", contained
While the report concluded that there are significant gaps in US knowledge about China's capabilities and intentions, it also stated -- stronger than ever before -- that US military assistance to Taiwan is in the US national interest, and promote peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.
Below we present an analysis by Michael J. Fonte, senior policy analyst for the Washington-based Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA).
"The United States takes its obligation to assist Taiwan in maintaining a self-defense capability very seriously. This is not only because it is mandated by US law in the TRA (Taiwan Relations Act), but also because it is in our own national interest," states the "Implementation of the Taiwan Relations Act" report to the US Congress from the Defense Department.
The addition of the phrase, "it is in our own interest" to an expression of US support for Taiwan's maintenance of a self-defense capability is a shift possibly as significant as President Clinton's adding the words "the assent of the people of Taiwan" to the usual US policy statement that the resolution of the "Taiwan Strait issue" must be peaceful.
"A qualitative change" is how one US policy analyst characterized the inclusion of this specific phrase. "I can't imagine the State Department I know signing off on that statement."
"This states explicitly what has always been implicit" said a policymaker close to the administration. "The Department of Defense (DOD) is pushing the envelope here. It is useful to state that self-defense capability is in the US national interest because one can read the TRA in a minimalist way, i.e., unlike the Mutual Defense Treaty it does not require us to do anything. The DOD has added another reason for why the US should defend Taiwan it is in our own interest," the policymaker added.
"To put it more positively," the analyst concluded, "if the TRA didn't exist, the US national interest would be enough of a reason to support Taiwan."
The actual text of the TRA, Section 2(b), states: "It is the policy of the United States
The text is clear about peace and stability in the Western Pacific being vital to the interests of the US, and views efforts to resolve the Taiwan Strait issue by "other than peaceful means" to be a threat to this peace and security. But it does not explicitly link the provision of defensive arms to Taiwan to US interests. The DOD text closes the loop neatly.
"As long as Taiwan has a capable defense, the environment will be more conducive to peaceful dialogue, and thus the whole region will be more stable," the report states. "We continually reevaluate Taiwan's defense posture to ensure that we make available to Taiwan such items as will provide a sufficient self-defense capability. Our arms sales policy aims to enable Taiwan to maintain a self-defense capability, while also reinforcing regional stability." The DOD authors continue to hammer away at the link between the two issues.
"The TRA obliges us to maintain the United States' capacity to resist any resort to force or coercion that would jeopardize the security of Taiwan.
This obligation is consistent with America's overall strategy in the region, our commitment to peace and stability, and our regional military posture." The report then clearly links the 100,000 US troops stationed in the region to the same peace and stability goals. Again, the authors seem to be pushing the envelope to state explicitly that these troops are guarantors of a peaceful resolution to the Taiwan Strait issue.
Finally, the report points to the US commitment to Taiwan as detailed in 1996. "We demonstrated our commitment to maintaining regional peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait by deploying two carrier battle groups to the region in response to provocative PRC missile exercises in 1996."
Although the Clinton administration still has a few weeks' life left in it, this document already seems to be positioning the incoming Bush administration for a more explicit line in the water in the Taiwan Strait.
Former Clinton administration officials like Robert Suettinger have argued that "strategic ambiguity has not been the US policy for at least 5 years." He has frequently told those discussing US policy to "look at our deeds not our words," pointing to the 1996 deployment of two aircraft carrier groups in the Taiwan Strait during the Chinese missile firings. Strategic ambiguity is "not the policy now," Suettinger concludes. "Our policy is: you on both sides have to resolve the issue, peacefully."
In a Spring 2000 National Interest article, Paul Wolfowitz, one of the key policy advisers to George W. Bush during the presidential campaign and widely considered to be high on Bush's list for a key policy position, argued: "While ambiguity on the definition of "one China" is desirable and on the subject of arms sales is probably necessary, there are two areas involving American intentions where ambiguity serves no purpose. The first concerns the US attitude toward the use of force to resolve the Taiwan issue, the second our attitude toward Taiwanese independence.
"While making it clear to Taiwan that the United States will not abandon it or force it to negotiate under pressure, we should also convey that we expect reasonable behavior in return which would include avoiding a unilateral declaration of independence. We will not have peace in the Taiwan Strait if this promising democracy is made to disappear. We will only have peace when it is accepted as a fact of life. Only then will the friends of Taiwan be able to see why it is genuinely better for Taiwan to be joined with China, pointing the way to the kind of government that the great Chinese people deserve."
Whether a Bush administration pushes for Wolfowitz's stated position that it would be "genuinely better for Taiwan to be joined with China" or not, strategic clarity is in the air about the US position regarding its commitment to the defense capability of Taiwan.
The DOD report goes beyond even this position on Taiwan's capability. It clearly links US support for any attack on Taiwan to the US' regional goals.
"The overarching US goal is to avoid any use or threat of force to resolve differences in the Taiwan Strait. Thus, our goals include that the PRC be persuaded against or deterred from attacking or threatening attack, that if a threat is made it is unavailing, and that if an attack is made it is unsuccessful. In the latter case, our goal would be that Taiwan defend itself without outside assistance or, as a fallback, that it defend itself long enough to permit outside assistance, and that the combination of Taiwan and US forces defeat a PLA attack on Taiwan, should the US decide to intervene."
"Moreover," the report continues, "we have goals associated with the outcome of any conflict, apart from the primary goal of defending Taiwan against unprovoked attack. We would want any US intervention to reassure other allies and friends and discourage other aggressions, strengthening or at least not weakening our future military relations in the region."
The Bush policy team has made it clear that they view US alliance partners as a higher priority than relations with China. This DOD document runs the military side of that argument out in full.
This article first appeared in the Taipei Times, December 26th 2000. Reprinted with permission.
Every once in a while, an American think-tank figure pops up with a "new" idea on how to resolve the tension across the Taiwan Strait. In early 1998, it was Kennedy School of Government's Joseph Nye who launched his infamous "Taiwan deal", in which Taiwan was supposed to foreswear its independence in exchange for some kind of vague "higher international profile". A year later, Kenneth Lieberthal, who recently stepped down as the prime East Asia person on Mr. Clinton's National Security Council, launched his equally noxious and onerous "interim agreements" trial balloon.
This time, Mr. David Shambaugh, a pro-China academic at the George Washington University, writes in the January/February 2001 issue of Foreign Affairs that the concept of "confederation" offers the best hope for an ultimate solution as " it would bring the island back into the sovereign fold of China while guaranteeing substantial autonomy to Taiwan."
First we must point out that Mr. Shambaugh's basic premise is wrong, since Taiwan was never in the sovereign fold of the PRC to begin with. Yes, the Kuomintang came from China, but they were driven out after losing the Civil War there, and they constitute only 15 percent of Taiwan's population.
The large majority of the people of Taiwan are native Taiwanese, and come from a background of identifying with Taiwan itself, rejecting any claim by China of sovereignty over Taiwan. When Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists came over, the island had just been freed from Japanese colonialism, and was looking forward to joining the multitude of newly independent nations in Asia and Africa.
Instead, they were subjected to 38 years of Martial Law and oppression by the Chinese Nationalists, who for many years clung to the outdated notion that they as the "Republic of China" _ were the rightful rulers of all of China. While since the early 1990's the Taipei government has dropped these claims, Taiwan's future is still being held hostage by anachronistic counterclaims across the Taiwan Strait.
Isn't it time for American scholars to stop perpetuating these outdated notions, and help bring about an acceptance of Taiwan (by China and the rest of the international community) as a full and equal member of the world family of nations? The most obvious -- and only really fair and just -- resolution is to normalize relations with Taiwan and accord full diplomatic ties to a deserving nation of 23 million people.
The US and other nations need to emphasize time and again that it is the right of the Taiwanese people to determine their own future, without interference, threats or intimidation from China. And if they, the people of Taiwan, want to be accepted as an independent nation named "Taiwan", that choice should be respected and even applauded by the international community, not discouraged or frustrated.
In the beginning of December 2000, some 50 overseas Taiwanese organizations met in Alexandria, VA -- just across the Potomac River from Washington DC -- and laid the groundwork for the establishment of the World Taiwanese Congress (WTC). The Congress is the brainchild of lawyer Yao Chia-wen, a close advisor to President Chen Shui-bian, and is the umbrella grouping for overseas organizations that support Taiwan.
The new organization is designed to speak up on behalf of Taiwan and the overseas Taiwanese community, and will focus its activities primarily on the United States, Canada and Europe. It will promote the "Taiwanese Heritage Week", which is held annually in May, and will also be a driving force for the annual UN membership campaign in August/September.
In early Spring 2001, a meeting will be held in Taiwan to formally establish the new organization. All major existing overseas Taiwanese organizations, such as the Taiwanese Association of America, the North American Taiwanese Women's Association, and the Formosan Association for Public Affairs have agreed to join forces within the context of the new organization.
On 15 December 2000, Mr. Chiang Peng-chien, the DPP's first chairman, passed away in Taipei of pancreatic cancer at the age of 60.
Mr. Chiang was a tireless campaigner for human rights and democracy in Taiwan. In 1980, during peak of the Kuomintang's repression and martial law, he was (together with present President Chen Shui-bian) one of the courageous young lawyers, who stood up to defend the "Kaohsiung Eight", the major opposition leaders accused of "sedition" after the December 1979 "Kaohsiung Incident." He defended Mr. Lin Yi-hsiung, who later became Chairman of the DPP (1998-2000).
In 1986, Mr. Chiang became the first chairman of the newly-established
Democratic Progressive Party, and led it through its first difficult year
of existence, fending off attempts by the ruling Kuomintang to repress and
ban the budding party. He later served as a legislator and a member of the
He was one of Taiwan's most respected politicians. He had a good sense of humor, was a good speaker, and was always a team player. We will dearly miss him.
Every once in a while, a new and refreshing publication comes around that shows new light on topics that have been discussed ad infinitum elsewhere. The 78-page study by American literature professor Jerome Keating and Taiwanese history professor April C.J. Lin is such a book.
In this very readable work, Keating and Lin have condensed Taiwan's complex history from the early 1500s until the present into four chapters (I The Era of Global Navigation, II the Ch'ing era, III The Japanese era, and IV The Republic of China era). Each chapter is concluded with a refreshing "Summary Thought" and a list of questions designed to make the reader think "out-of-the-box" and try to see matters from the perspective of the actors playing a role in the history of that period.
If there is any criticism of the book, it is the minimal discussion of the 1979 "Kaohsiung Incident", which galvanized the democratic opposition on the island and the overseas Taiwanese community into political action.
It was the turning point that laid the groundwork for the establishment of the DPP in 1986, the end of Martial Law in 1987, the subsequent transformation of Taiwan into a democracy, and the recent coming to power of the democratic opposition of the DPP.
Keating and Lin do refer to the event briefly, but only under the heading "Developments and Stories to be written".
The book costs NT$ 200. and can be ordered from
SMC Publishing in Taipei: tel. +886-2-2362-0190, Fax +886-2-2362-3834,
website http://www.smcbook.com.tw and e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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