Friday, July 25, 2008

25th January 2008

America and the Taiwan question

By Mathew Yakai in Changchun, China

THIS MONTH alone has seen a lot of foreign dignitaries visiting China on official trips.

The highest foreign dignitary was the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, his first overseas official trip since taking office late last year.

On January 13, India's Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh paid an official three-day visit to China to boost relations with its neighbor.

He met with both President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. The Indian leader called engagement with China an "imperative necessity."

Another delegation from South Korean government visited Beijing to acknowledge and strengthen the two countries bilateral ties.

The Foreign Minister of the Southeastern African country, Malawi also visited Beijing to complete the signing of bilateral relationship with Beijing, after ending the 42 years of recognizing Taiwan.

From the United States of America was Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Command Timothy Keating. During his visit, he conducted a wide exchange of views on Sino-US military ties, the Taiwan issue and international and regional issues of common concern.

Mr. Keating assured China of Washington’s recognition of One China Policy, likewise other countries.

But Mr. Keating’s meeting in Beijing is interesting. I would confidently say that even Washington recognize the One China Policy, if Beijing tries to use force to unite Taiwan with Great China then Washington will inevitably intervene. Even, America can use force if it thinks fit.

Last week I strongly worded that Honiara should shift allegiance to Beijing and the reasons why it should.

In this commentary, I will state the United State’s policy towards Taiwan, while recognizing the One China Policy. This is important because U.S. is coincidently recognizing the One China Policy and protecting Taiwan from any aggression by Beijing.

Briefly, I should mention that U.S. does not support Taiwan’s independence but only promotes a peaceful solution in the strait, in any way agreed by the two sides.

Some of our leaders in the Pacific may be ill-informed that Washington is supporting Taiwan’s independence. This is not the case here.

So what is really America’s role given that the Taiwan issue pose a possible war if there is a simple misunderstanding between the relevant parties, especially Beijing and Taipei, and possibly Washington.

Well, U.S foreign policy from the 1890’s to the present has been based on two general principles – support for capitalist economic systems (free market economies) and the democratic political regimes (the free world).

As a liberal political democracy with a capital economic system, these two foreign policy principles were in perfect accord with United State’s national interest.

Although the economic principles were general, most important in terms of national security or power politics, the political principle was never completely absent.

Both the American government leaders and the American people generally believe in the superiority and desirability of democratic institutions.

In the sixty years since Dec 7, 1941, USA Foreign Policy has been enormously successful in protecting both America national interests abroad and fostering the growth of liberal democratic regimes through the projection of American power and diplomacy.

It has been so successful that by 1989 the US was the only so-called superpower left in the world.

The successful twentieth-century United States foreign policy, so beneficial to the United States itself, was also of enormous social, economic and political benefit to hundreds of millions of people throughout the world. Indeed it helped to establish some of America’s strongest economic competitors in Japan, Germany and the European Community.

Taiwan’s Foreign Policy is also based on capitalist economic system and democratic political regimes due to strong allies with America. Thus, Washington’s commitment towards Taiwan besides recognizing the One China Policy is wholly due to Taiwan’s promotion of democracy as opposed to Beijing.

However, China opened its door to the outside world 30 years ago, and today it enjoys a healthy trade and economic relations with most of the countries of the world. The early visit by the high dignitaries depicts the important role China is playing and will be playing from today on.

But the question is the role that Washington playing in the Taiwan issue which is of important not only to US-China-Taiwan relationship but the world over.

At any rate, in 1949 and 1950, the US proclaimed that it had no interest in Taiwan. Then in 1951, North Korea, goaded on by both Stalin and Mao, invaded North Korea, and the US led UN’s forces in a war that re-established the 38th parallel as the division between North and South Korea.

This was the only time since the end of the Chinese empire that United States armed forces have ever fought against the armed forces of China.

From that time on, the United States has been the main economic and security support for the republic of China on Taiwan, and the Republic of (South) Korea, both of which gradually developed into economic powerhouses with interestingly representative and democratic political systems.

At the same time the Democratic People’s Republic of (North) Korea gradually declined to its present state of starvation and dictatorship.

From 1950 to 1979, the United States did not recognize the People’s Republic of China and its government in Beijing. There was diplomatic contact, however.

From 1955 to 1971, representative of the US and China met over a hundred times, but as Zhou Enlai would later tell Henry Kissinger, nothing was really accomplished.

Then after secret negotiation in 1971, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger made their famous 1972 opening toward China in the same year that the People’s Republic took over China’s seat on the U.N. Security Council, pushing out the Republic of China on Taiwan.

China’s overriding concern from the beginning of this rapprochement was the question of Taiwan.

As Zhou Enlai put it, “It goes without saying that the first question to be settled is the crucial issue between China and United States which is the question of the concrete ways of the withdrawal of all U.S. armed forces from Taiwan and the Taiwan Strait areas.”

These Kissinger-Zhou conversations led to Nixon’s historic visit to China and his meetings with Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai.

The later meetings provided the substance of the new US-China relationship and led eventually to the first of the “three communiqué” which, together with the “Taiwan Relations Act” of 1979 have constituted the formal documentary bases of this relationship for the past 30 years.

After the Shanghai Communiqué, of February 27, 1972, the first practical results of the Nixon-Kissinger breakthrough were a lessening of US-China tension and pressure on the Soviet Union to negotiate the SALT 1 arms limitation treaty.

The “Joint US-China Communiqué” or Shanghai Communiqué did not, however, contain as strong a statement on Taiwan as Kissinger’s July 9, 1971 statement to Zhou.

Both sides stated their view of the world situation and especially the situation in Asia, called for world peace, and a normal relationship between their two countries.

As with the Kissinger-Zhou talks, Taiwan was the main problem area in US-China relations. The Chinese stated their position categorically.

“Taiwan question is the crucial question obstructing the normalization of relations between China and the United State, the Government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government of China; Taiwan is a province of China which has long been returned to the motherland: the liberation of Taiwan is China’s internal affair in which no other country has the right to interfere, and all US forces and military installations must be withdrawn from Taiwan. The Chinese Government firmly opposes any activities which aim at the creation of “One China, One Taiwan,” “One China two governments,” “two China,” and “independent Taiwan,” or advocate that “the status of Taiwan remains to be determined.”

To this the US responded, in a lawyerly manner less definite than Kissinger’s earlier response.

“United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China.

The US government does not challenge that position. It reaffirms its interest in a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves.

With this prospect in mind, it affirms the ultimate objective of the withdrawal of all US forces and military installations from Taiwan.

In the meantime, it will progressively reduce its forces and military installations on Taiwan as the tension in the area diminishes.”

The Chinese position is unequivocal and has changed little in thirty years.

Seven years later, on January 1, 1979, the United States formally recognized the People’s Republic of China on Taiwan and a joint communiqué was signed.

The “Joint Communiqué on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between the People’s Republic of China and the United States of America” is much shorter then the Shanghai communiqué.

The three key statements included are; USA recognize Beijing as the legal government and the people of US will maintain cultural, commercial and other unofficial relations with Taipei; USA and PRC will uphold the Shanghai communiqué, USA recognize that there is but One China and Taiwan is part of China.

The “Taiwan Relations Act” was passed in the US Congress on March 29, 1979 and signed into law on April 10, in order to make it possible for the Carter administration to recognize the PRC and withdraw its recognition from the ROC as the legitimate government of China.

It was designed to assure the continuation of both US interest in Taiwan and the security of the people of Taiwan.

The text clarifies and amplifies many aspect of official US-China-Taiwan policy.

Certain part of the Act commits US to protecting and even enhancing the “human rights” of the people of Taiwan, to supplying Taiwan with “necessary” defensive weapons, and to maintaining also “the capacity of the US itself to resist the use of any kind of force against Taiwan.

When early in his presidency, George Bush warned China that the US would come to the aid of Taiwan in case of war. He was only stating openly an official US policy that previous presidents had downplayed in the interest of diplomacy.

Most galling to the PRC, the question of US arms sales to Taiwan remained a difficult problem.

Two important points need to be made here. From August 17, 1982 to this day is over 20 years and would certainly seem to qualify as a “long-term policy” one in which arms sales to Taiwan have greatly increased.

Thus the PRC claim that the US is not living up to the “three communiqués”.

From June 1995 to September 11, 2001, the PRC did anything but “adopt measure and create condition conducive to a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan issue.

June 1995 was when former Taiwan President Lee suddenly announced that he regarded Taiwan-China relations as “state-to-state, or at least special state-to-state relations.”

First PRC fired short-range missiles and staged live-fire war games and air exercises in the Taiwan Straits between July and November 1996 and then they started a massive missile buildup on the South China Coast.

There are now some 350 missiles aimed at Taiwan and the build up is expected to reach 600 or more.

The US can make an equally strong argument that the PRC has not lived up to the three communiqués.

In June and July 1998, when Clinton visited Shanghai, he became the first US President to openly proclaim Henry Kissinger’s 1971 “three no’s” policy: no to US support for “One Taiwan, One China,” “no US support for an independent Taiwan”, and “no US support for Taiwan membership in the UN.

His statement set off a debate as to whether this was a new policy or morally an open statement of the long-time US policy.

Whatever policy Beijing and Taipei come up with, Washington should not interfere, except when there is likelihood of force exerted on Taiwan. On the other hand, Washington should not give wrong signals to Taiwan to insist for independence. It is up to Beijing to decide as it’s an internal matter.

For the Pacific Island countries who support either Beijing or Taiwan must remember that the issue is fragile, and most importantly, Taiwan is part of China and China alone can negotiate to solve the Taiwan Strait issue.

Liu Huagiu, then Director of the Foreign Affairs office of the State Council puts; “Mankind will soon stride into the twenty-first century. The world wants peace.

Countries want stability, economies need to be developed and mankind wants progress – all these have become the mainstream of the present time. Peace and development are still the two outstanding themes of the world.”

With the Beijing Olympic in August, the world will come to Beijing. China will not only offer the “great game” of all time but also its thousand years old history.

The Olympic theme is rightly put; “One World, One Dream”.

Athletes will come, strive for “gold”, but one important fact is that the West will come to meet East, North to come and meet south. It will be beyond the Olympic

What humanity needs today are peace, harmony and prosperity. China promotes that in its foreign and economic policies.

If US keeps on playing its ‘card game’ on the issue then we all know very well that US alone benefits from this issue by selling arms to Taiwan.

But a simple miscalculation by any of the three parties, Taiwan-USA and China, turning the Taiwan Strait into a pool of “blood” then this will be “unfortunate” in the twenty first century.

All we want is PEACE, especially after what Beijing Olympic will provide.

Note: “Asia-Pacific Perspective: China +” looks at Chinese society, culture, economy, governance and China’s role within the Asia Pacific region and the world over. It mainly focuses on how Oceania can learn from China’s experience. The writer is from PNG studying in China

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