US Senator Joseph Biden has a habit of putting his foot in his mouth. Back in the beginning of May 2001 _ in an article in the Washington Post ("Not so deft on Taiwan", WP, 2 May 2001) he seemed to backtrack on US commitments to help defend Taiwan, just after Mr. Bush had made it clear that the US would do "whatever it took" to help defend the island in case of a Chinese attack.
Then in the beginning of August 2001, just after he had become chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Senate, Mr. Biden visited Taiwan and tried to lecture President Chen Shui-bian on his China policy, prompting a scathing editorial in the Taipei Times, titled "Mr. Biden's `constructive engagement' myth."
However, Mr. Biden went from bad to worse on the ill-fated day of 11 September 2001: speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, Mr. Biden argued for the retention of what he called the "studied ambiguity'' of the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, whereby -- according to Mr. Biden -- the US would remain ambiguous on whether it would help Taiwan repel a Chinese attack.
Then, in an incredible lapse of understanding of US policy and of basic facts, Mr. Biden said he told Taiwan (during his August trip) that the Taiwan Relations Act meant:
" that we support a one- China policy, but it rests upon a cross-strait dialogue where the countries, where the parties, mutually arrive at how unification (emphasis added -- Ed.) will take place peacefully; that if the mainland attempts to do this by force and not dialogue, then the United States will provide the military means in terms of materiel to prevent that from happening ."
Later he added that he also told Taiwan:
"You are no longer an independent country. You are no longer an independent nation-state. We've agreed that you are going to be part of China and that you will work it out under what conditions. So don't go declaring independence . "
Taiwan Communiqué comment: Mr. Biden comments are totally out of line, and out of touch with the reality of US policy. First, the Taiwan Relations Act is as clear as it can be on US commitment to help defend Taiwan against any Chinese attack -- and against " any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means, including by boycotts or embargoes" for that matter.
Secondly, as has been stated time and again by the State Department, the White House and prominent members of Congress, US policy emphasizes a peaceful resolution of the conflict between Taiwan and China. Nowhere in the Taiwan Relations Act or anywhere else in US policy documents does it speak of "unification." It is time Mr. Biden, as a US politician with a heavy responsibility for US foreign policy, engraves this in his head. Words matter, Mr. Biden.
Mr. Biden's "independence" statement bespeaks an incredible arrogance on his part. Who is he, or the US for that matter, to tell another country it is not an independent country. Taiwan is by all accounts a free, democratic and independent nation, with diplomatic ties to some 28 other nations. That the US and many other nations at present don't have diplomatic ties with Taiwan is due to the unhappy legacy of the Kuomintang regime, which maintained for all too long its ludicrous claim to be the government of China.
The new DPP government of President Chen Shui-bian is working hard to end the decades of animosity created by the Kuomintang, and is at the same time working to end the isolation which were the result of the Kuomintang's dim-witted policies. Mr. Biden should applaud and assist those efforts, instead of creating new roadblocks for the young democracy on the island.
On Thursday, 2 November 2001, Professor Lee Chen-yuan passed away in Taipei at the age of 86. In his medical profession he was known as an internationally recognized expert on snake venom research. In his earlier life, he was not involved in political activities, but in 1990 -- in spite of his advanced age -- he became an important actor in the political arena.
In 1991, he was a leading figure in the "Action 100 Alliance", a group of academics and opposition figures working for democracy in Taiwan, and for the abolition of Article 100 of the criminal code, a remnant of the earlier martial law, which was still severely restricting freedom of political expression on the island (see "Academia in Action" in Taiwan Communiqué no. 52, December 1991).
Professor Lee's appeal and tireless campaigning led to a groundswell of public support, which smoothed the way for full freedom of speech and association on the island, and led to the final steps in the transition towards democracy.
In 1992, Lee founded the FTMPA to unite the medical community to play a more active role in politics. He also led the medical group to push for Taiwan's entry into the UN and the World Health Organization (WHO) under the name of "Taiwan."
He helped set up the Taiwan Independence Party (TAIP), serving as its chairman for several years. The TAIP broke away from the DPP in 1995, when then DPP-chairman Hsu Hsin-liang became too conciliatory towards China, and started his ill-fated "march westward boldly" policy, which led to Hsu's downfall and replacement by the highly respected Mr. Lin Yi-hsiung.
We will dearly miss professor Lee. His vision, dedication, and kindhearted spirit were an inspiration to us all. May he rest in peace.
The 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington shocked the world. In its aftermath, a US-led coalition was established to fight terrorism around the world on many fronts: military, political, economic, financial.
In its first reactions to the US request to join the coalition, China sought a deal in which China would support the coalition if the US would reduce its commitment to Taiwan. In a Beijing press briefing on 18 September 2001, foreign ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao tried to get US support for China's attempts to label Taiwan, Tibet and East-Turkestan as "separatists."
In several statements by high-level US officials, the United States stated explicitly that there was no quid pro quo, and that the US reaffirmed its support for Taiwan. After a 22 September 2001 meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan, US Secretary of State Colin Powell denied any such deal, saying "There was no suggestion of a quid pro quo, period."
The Bush Administration reinforced its firmness on this issue in September, when it announced a US$ 18 million sale of AGM-65G Maverick missiles for use with US-supplied F-16 aircraft, and again in October, when it announced the sale of 360 Javelin anti-tank missiles and aircraft spare parts, amounting to US$ 340. million.
Back to: Table of Contents
Copyright © 2001 Taiwan Communiqué