Lee wants Clinton to back Taiwan over China
By Richard Halloran
Taipei Taiwan, November 12, 1999
President Lee Teng-hui, writing in a scholarly U.S. journal, has renewed the campaign he began last summer to discourage President Clinton from cozying up to China at the expense of Taiwan's interests.
The concern is that President Clinton might weaken Taiwan's case for independence in his desire for an accommodation with China. President Lee clearly is pressing Washington to take Taiwan's side in its intensifying strife with China.
Conversations with Taiwanese officials, opposition politicians, scholars, and Western representatives made clear that Mr. Clinton, more than Beijing, was the target in July when Mr. Lee abandoned the 25-year-old principle of "one China" in favor of what he called "special state-to-state relations" between Taiwan and China.
The maneuver was a delayed response to remarks by Mr. Clinton in China in June 1998, when the president appeared to accept Beijing's claim to sovereignty over Taiwan. Before that, the United States had acknowledged only that both sides claimed the island.
Mr. Lee at that time began a deliberate, secret process to determine how to dissuade Mr. Clinton from his position. That included sending an envoy to Germany to ask former Chancellor Helmut Kohl how West Germany had handled relations with East Germany before the Berlin Wall was demolished in 1989.
Mr. Kohl emphasized to the envoy that a key to working relations and to getting American and international support was to negotiate only on a basis of equality in "state-to-state relations," a stratagem that Mr. Lee adopted with public remarks in July that outraged Beijing.
Mr. Lee's latest move comes in an article in the current issue of the journal Foreign Affairs, which has been used before to deliver public messages between political leaders. There, Mr. Lee presses his case by calling it "pernicious fiction to assert that the People's Republic of China has any right or imperative to claim sovereignty over Taiwan."
Andrew Yang, secretary general of the Council of Advanced Policy Studies, which often reflects the thinking of Mr. Lee's ruling party, said in an interview: "President Lee wants the Americans to make a choice between China and Taiwan. You are facing a very important choice in the very near future."
Mr. Lee lays out that choice in Foreign Affairs: "Taiwan is already a full-fledged democracy, while the Chinese mainland remains under authoritarian rule. Taiwan has long been a market economy; the Chinese mainland is mostly a planned economy closely controlled by the state."
These moves are the latest in an effort that started in 1991 in which Mr. Lee has taken incremental steps intended to have Taiwan recognized as an independent nation and his administration as the legitimate government of the nation, despite mainland claims that Taiwan is a province of China.
The latest round began in June 1998, when Mr. Clinton said during a visit to Shanghai: "We don't support independence for Taiwan, or two Chinas, or one Taiwan, one China. And we don't believe that Taiwan should be a member of any organization for which statehood is a requirement." That was widely seen as acquiescing to Beijing's claim to Taiwan.
To figure out a response, Mr. Lee convened a group of advisers who deliberated out of the public eye for several months; the envoy to Mr. Kohl reported back late in 1998. But Mr. Lee, who often keeps his own counsel, was silent about his intentions as he watched relations between Washington and Beijing slide downhill last winter.
Allegations of Chinese spying on U.S. nuclear laboratories, accusations of illicit contributions to the Democratic Party, and botched negotiations over China's entry into the World Trade Organization soured relations between Washington and Beijing. When the United States accidentally bombed China's embassy in Belgrade in May, relations hit bottom.
Meanwhile, Mr. Lee had learned that President Jiang Zemin of China planned to issue a strong statement during China's celebration of its 50th anniversary on Oct. 1. He would note that Britain's colony in Hong Kong had been returned in 1997 and Portugal's colony in Macao would be returned in December this year. Taiwan would be next.
Mr. Lee decided to deliver his response to Mr. Clinton and to preempt Mr. Jiang with a single stroke. In an interview with a German correspondent on July 9, Mr. Lee uttered his "special state-to-state" formula.
Su Chi, chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council that coordinates policy toward Beijing, followed up with a statement that the "one China" policy as defined by Beijing was invalid.
In response, Beijing hurled invective at Mr. Lee and threatened to use military force against Taiwan unless Mr. Lee recanted. But an earthquake in September, which killed more than 2,200 people, seems to have caused Beijing to calm down.
Mr. Lee's words, both in July and this month, were also aimed at Japan and other Asian nations and at international leagues such as the World Trade Organization, World Health Organization, and the United Nations, into which Taiwan seeks entry.
Mr. Lee appealed in Foreign Affairs to governments around the world to revise their "perceptions of what has taken place on Taiwan," especially in democracy, and to accord Taiwan "the international status and role it deserves."