sudden emergence of China's "Anti-Separation Law" (also called the
"Anti-Secession Law") this past December was a surprise because,
even by Chinese standards, it was unnecessary. Just six days before
its announcement, legislative elections in Taiwan reflected waning
political sentiment on the island for constitutional reforms
affecting Taiwan's de jure status as the Republic of China.
China went ahead and initiated a "legislative" process to put this
law on the books was a clear indication that China has moved away
from its "fundamental policy of striving for peaceful
reunification" and toward a posture of military threat to Taiwan.
It is a development that reveals a dangerous weakness in our
current China policy: It rests on slogans that have no
Slogans of China Policy
me explain. Three core elements of America's China policy are:
- "Our One China Policy";
- Our opposition to unilateral change in the
Taiwan Strait's "status quo as we define it"; and
- Our "non-support" of Taiwan
These three core elements literally have
no substance in the sense that none of them is defined anywhere in
the official lexicon of American diplomacy. And insofar as anyone
has any idea about what they really mean, their meaning has no
relationship to the actual words that U.S. policymakers use to
describe those elements.
Consequently, when confronted by actions,
either by China or Taiwan that tend to annoy or upset the other, no
American Administration has possessed a coherent policy framework
within which to manage the controversy. Over the years, this lack
of coherence has had the unfortunate effect of confusing both the
President and the Congress. Our China policy has become an
impressionistic fabric similar to Justice Potter Stewart's view of
pornography; that is, "I shall not today attempt further to define
the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that
shorthand description [of pornography]; and perhaps I could never
succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see
short, our China policy is so vaporous that to call it a "policy"
would invest it with a level of thought that is entirely
A Policy of Non-Definition
Since the end of the Second World War, it
has been the official policy of the United States government that
the post-World War II status of Taiwan is "an unsettled question
subject to future international resolution." Taiwan was a former
colony of the Empire of Japan to which Japan abjured in the
document of surrender all "right, title and claim" in perpetuity.
However, Japan pointedly did not designate any of its victorious
enemy nations as the recipient of Taiwan, leaving it for the allied
powers to sort out in the fullness of time.
Korean War and the Cold War intervened to prevent the allies from
designating "China" (either Chiang Kai-shek's government-in-exile
on Taiwan or Mao Zedong's new "People's Republic of China" in
Beijing) as the new sovereign over Taiwan, and the matter went
unsettled when the final peace treaty with Japan was signed in San
Francisco in September 1951. The USSR refused to sign the treaty.
It objected, among other things, to the provision regarding Formosa
and the Pescadores:
[T]his draft grossly violates the
indisputable rights of China to the return of integral parts of
Chinese territory: Taiwan, the Pescadores, the Paracel and other
islands.... The draft contains only a refer-ence to the
renunciation by Japan of its rights to these territories but
intentionally omits any mention of the further fate of these
"unsettled" status of Taiwan remains the policy of the United
States government to this day, except that constant repetition of
the phrase "one China policy" has given America's political
leaders, in both the Congress and the executive branch, the vague
impression that somehow the United States formally recognizes that
Taiwan is a part of China.
Compounding the confusion is the
Administration's resolute refusal to be clear on the matter (and
this is not just a problem with the present Administration, but
with all previous ones dating back to President Nixon's first
term). For example, just one year ago, before the House Committee
on International Relations, Assistant Secretary of State for East
Asian and Pacific Affairs James Kelly had the following exchange,
redolent of a certain Stewartesque syntax, with Representative
Grace Napolitano (D-CA):
REP. NAPOLITANO: The next question, then,
is can the evolution of full-fledged democracy on Taiwan and the
clear emergence of a sense of Taiwanese identity meld with the
principle of One China, or are they in stark contrast with each
MR. KELLY: There certainly is a degree of
contrast. The definition of One China is something that we could go
on for much too long for this event. In my testimony, I made the
point "our One China," and I didn't really define it, and I'm not
sure I very easily could define it.
I can tell you what it is not. It is not
the One-China policy or the One-China principle that Beijing
suggests, and it may not be the definition that some would have in
Taiwan. But it does convey a meaning of solidarity of a kind among
the people on both sides of the straits that has been our policy
for a very long time.
Indeed, Secretary Kelly was one of the few
diplomats in the State Department who actually understood what our
position on "One China" really was, and tried his best to
differentiate it from Beijing's "One China Principle" by calling it
"Our One China." But the net effect at the end of that day was to
leave Representative Napolitano--and everyone else on the
committee, I suspect--just as uninformed about U.S. policy as they
were at the start of his testimony.
his testimony of April 21 last year, Secretary Kelly also listed
another core element of our China policy: "The U.S. does not
support independence for Taiwan or unilateral moves that would
change the status quo as we define it." No one on the committee had
the presence of mind to ask Secretary Kelly just how the
Administration defined the status quo in the Taiwan Strait, but six
months later, members of the press engaged his deputy, Randall G.
Schriver, in the following Stewartesque exchange:
QUESTION: Randy, how do you define Taiwan
independence? Would a change of the name of the country be--or
change the national flag--be considered as independ-ence? Thank
MR. SCHRIVER: I don't think it's useful
for me to get into a variety of hypotheticals, and I think,
actually, it's fairly obvious and fairly clear what we mean by our
non-support for Taiwan independence. I mean, you could throw out a
range of things, and I just don't want to address them one at a
time about the implications, and "is this independence or is that
independence?" I think the statement, and our intent behind it, is
fact, it was not "quite clear." Clarity was precisely the quality
that Secretary Schriver hoped to avoid when he answered the
general, a democracy cannot have a coherent foreign policy if it
refuses to define the core elements of that policy. These two core
elements--"One China" and "status quo in the Taiwan Strait"--are
central to America's China policy, yet they are undefined and
consider our China policy to be fatally flawed in the sense that
the key terms used to describe it are precisely the opposite of
what the words mean on their face. That is, "one China" does not
mean that the United States recognizes that Taiwan is part of
China, but only that the United States only recognizes one
government of China at a time. And "status quo as we define it" is
nowhere defined either in public or within the confidential
proceedings of the executive branch.
third misconceived element of our China policy, which Secretary
James Kelly enumerated at his testimony last year, is that "the
U.S. does not support independence for Taiwan." There is an obvious
incongruity between this "non-support" for Taiwan's independence
and America's devotion to the "expansion of democracy" in Taiwan
and our sales of hundreds of millions, indeed billions, of dollars
in defense articles and services to Taiwan each year since 1979.
Why, pray tell, are we selling Taiwan the instruments to defend
themselves with if we do not support Taiwan's continued separation
from China--and hence Taiwan's independence?
answer is quite sound. Assistant Secretary of Defense Peter Rodman
pointed to the congressional mandate of the Taiwan Relations Act to
"maintain the capacity to resist the use of force against...Taiwan"
and averred that "the United States takes these obligations very
seriously." He explained:
[T]he President's National Security
Strategy, published in September 2002, calls for "building a
balance of power that favors freedom." Taiwan's evolution into a
true multi-party democracy over the past decade is proof of the
importance of America's commitment to Taiwan's defense. It
strengthens American resolve to see Taiwan's democracy grow and
sums it up nicely. Why, then, can't the United States government
say this out loud? Why do American diplomats blame the Taiwan
Relations Act for our support of Taiwan? Why cannot even Secretary
of State Condoleezza Rice tell the Chinese that our arms sales to
Taiwan are to enable Taiwan to defend its democracy against the
threats of tyranny?
reasons for this are historical, but, truth be told, they are
simply force of habit. Dr. Henry Kissinger apparently gave a secret
assurance to Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai in 1971 that the State
Department would no longer refer in public to the status of Taiwan
Apparently through some misplaced loyalty to Dr. Kissinger's secret
assurances to Beijing 34 year ago, State Department officials still
refuse to say in public that U.S. policy is that Taiwan's legal
status remains "unsettled."
the decades, on occasion, the State Department has actually hinted
at this unsettled state of affairs on Taiwan's legal status in its
correspondence and responses to the Congress. However, rather than
adhere to a rigorous and precise vagueness, executive branch
spokesmen, and indeed the President himself, betray constant and
pervasive befuddlement when it comes to matters of Taiwan and
China. The President has on occasion referred to Taiwan as a
country in its own right, and the Secretary of State has called
Taiwan a "part of China." A scandalous lack of precision in our
policy terminology has led to the confusion of otherwise
A Policy of Pretense
early in the U.S.-China relationship, both sides realized that they
could not sustain a cooperative strategic partnership against the
Soviet Union if each insisted that the other side foreswear core
tenets of its foreign policy. From 1971 through 1989, U.S.-China
relations were built on an unspoken but very real understanding
that enabled both sides to ignore the paramount conflict in their
essential interests. It was an understanding based on pretense:
China pretends to have a "policy of peaceful unification with
Taiwan," in return for which the United States pretends to have a
"one China policy."
Congress of the United States was clearly frustrated by the fact
that this understanding was unspoken and insisted that it be made
explicit. It did so in a profound and direct way in 1979 in the
Taiwan Relations Act, which declared it the "policy of the United
States...(3) to make clear that the United States decision to
establish diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China
rests upon the expectation that the future of Taiwan will be
determined by peaceful means."
President Ronald Reagan was equally
perplexed by the bureaucracy's aversion to spelling out this
linkage. In August 1982, coincident with the announcement of the
U.S.-China Joint Communiqué of August 17, 1982, on the
question of Taiwan arms sales, President Reagan issued a
presidential statement that declared "the Taiwan question is a
matter for the Chinese people, on both sides of the Taiwan Strait,
to resolve. We will not interfere in this matter or prejudice the
free choice of, or put pressure on, the people of Taiwan in this
President Reagan went one step beyond this public statement to
mandate this linkage in a confidential presidential directive
designed to guide executive branch dealings with China and Taiwan.
Indeed, President Reagan declared this linkage was to be a
"permanent imperative of U.S. foreign policy."
As you know, I have agreed to the issuance
of a joint communiqué with the People's Republic of China in
which we express United States policy toward the matter of
continuing arms sales to Taiwan.
The talks leading up to the signing of the
communiqué were premised on the clear understanding that any
reduction of such arms sales depends upon peace in the Taiwan
Strait and the continuity of China's declared "fundamental policy"
of seeking a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue.
In short, the U.S. willingness to reduce
its arms sales to Taiwan is conditioned absolutely upon the
continued commitment of China to the peaceful solution of the
Taiwan-PRC differences. It should be clearly understood that the
linkage between these two matters is a permanent imperative of U.S.
In addition, it is essential that the
quantity and quality of the arms provided Taiwan be conditioned
entirely on the threat posed by the PRC. Both in quantitative and
qualitative terms, Taiwan's defense capability relative to that of
the PRC will be maintained.
The Challenge of the Anti-Separation
China's pretense of a "peaceful policy"
toward Taiwan has eroded significantly since 1993.
- In August 1993, with the issuance of a
"white paper" on Taiwan relations, Beijing reiterated that "any
sovereign state is entitled to use any means it deems necessary,
including military ones, to uphold its sovereignty and territorial
integrity" and asserted flatly that "the Chinese Government is
under no obligation to undertake any commitment to any foreign
power or people intending to split China as to what means it might
use to handle its own domestic affairs."
- From 1992 to the present, China's military
spending has increased at double-digit rates, something one might
not have expected following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Virtually every other country threatened by Soviet expansion cut
its defense spending significantly in an effort to reap a "peace
- In July 1995, China's hostile intentions
toward Taiwan were manifest when Beijing closed the heavily
trafficked Taiwan Strait to commercial shipping for several days
while it conducted unprecedented "missile tests," generally viewed
as an expression of anger at efforts by Taiwan's President Lee
Teng-hui to improve his country's international standing.
- In March 1996, the Chinese People's
Liberation Army tested nuclear-capable short-range ballistic
missiles in the Taiwan Strait, again closing that important
sea-lane to international traffic, in an effort to intimidate
Taiwan's voters during their first-ever presidential
- In August 1999, Chinese high-performance
jet fighters, for the first time, began to patrol the Taiwan Strait
at the "center line," challenging Taiwan jet fighters and raising
- And in February 2000, China issued another
white paper which called for the use of "all drastic measures
possible including the use of force" if Taiwan did not declare
itself part of China and agree to negotiations by a certain date.
the United States had possessed a coherent and consistent China
policy, these separate Chinese challenges to the status quo would
have been countered by calibrated "restatements" from Washington
about our "one China" policy. But they were not.
China's Anti-Separation Law and the U.S.
is to the Bush Administration's credit that it is finally doing so
as it confronts the Anti-Separation Law. The ASL is a convincing
indicator that China's commitment to peace in the Taiwan Strait is
weak at best.
Early unofficial draft iterations of the
ASL--which had initially been referred to as the "National
Unification Law"--had been floating around on the Internet at least
since 2002 and included all sorts of strange stipulations. Dr. Yu
Yuanzhou of Wuhan University proposed legislation that would
require the Chinese People's Liberation Army to attack Taiwan as
soon as it is able (no need to await any Taiwanese independence),
beginning with bombard-ments of Quemoy and Matsu, which, according
to Article 27 of his draft, "would not be limited to conventional
Understandably, the Bush Administration
was dismayed when the ASL was announced on December 17, 2004. The
Administration's perplexity was heightened because it followed hard
on elections in Taiwan that indicated sentiment for new
constitutional revisions had cooled, and hence, Beijing had no
justification for stirring the pot with this new legislation.
first, the Administration's major worry was that China would try to
"define" the status quo in the Strait beyond its existing vague
guideline. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told the
press on February 15 that the "U.S. Government has been quite clear
that we don't think either side should take unilateral steps that
try to define the situation further or push it in one direction or
consistency's sake, the Department of State doesn't want to confine
just itself to avoiding definitions, but seems to extend its
aversion to defining the status quo to all the players. Again, to
the Administration's credit, U.S. officials have maintained a
consistent and tough line with all their Chinese interlocutors on
the Chinese went ahead and passed the law on March 14, the week
prior to Secretary of State Rice's visit to Beijing, the Secretary
was even tougher. "We've made very clear that the anti-secession
law was not a welcome development because anything that is
unilateral in this and that increases tensions, which clearly the
anti-secession law did increase tensions, is not good." I have been told that
Secretary Rice was even more blunt in her private meetings with
reason for her unhappiness is clear. The central mandate of
Beijing's new "Anti-National Separation Law" (Fan Fenlie Guojia Fa
or, literally, "Law against Splitting the Nation") is the
declaration that China "shall" use military force against Taiwan
whenever the Chinese leadership decides that all possibilities for
"peaceful reunification" with Taiwan have been exhausted. But the
Anti-Separation Law makes no pretense of defining either what would
constitute an act "entailing" secession or what it might mean to
exhaust "all possibilities" for peaceful reunification.
such, the ASL serves as a free-standing, permanent casus belli
against Taiwan and the United States. In short, the ASL is an
open-ended declaration of war against Taiwan in which the Beijing
authorities reserve the right to launch "non-peaceful" actions
against the people of Taiwan whenever they wish and without
pre-legitimization of war is a very real change in China's stance
toward Taiwan--and indeed toward the United States, which sees the
preservation of Taiwan's democracy and autonomy from Beijing as in
both its political and strategic interests.
presenting the draft ASL to the National People's Congress on March
8, 2005, NPC Vice Chairman Wang Zhaoguo asserted that China's
constitution stipulates that "Taiwan is an unalienable part of the
sacred territory of the People's Republic of China." In this context, it
is ironic to note that the only piece of the world's geography that
the Chinese constitution declares is an unalienable part of the PRC
is Taiwan. Not Beijing or Shanghai or Xinjiang or Tibet.
is also ironic that the Chinese government insists that the
English-language rendering of fan fenlie guojia fa is "Anti
Secession Law." Of course, Taiwan has never been administered by
the People's Republic of China, and it seems an oxymoron to suggest
that Taiwan could secede from a country to which it has never
belonged in the first place.
How the U.S. Should React to the ASL
me suggest a few ways in which the Congress might remedy the flaws
in U.S. policy.
Policy. Recognizing that a problem exists is the first
step to finding a solution. In its oversight role, Congress should
insist that the Administration actually define its Taiwan
does not necessarily mean that the Congress should force the
Administration into a public enunciation of a policy toward Taiwan
that directly antagonizes Beijing. But at the very least, the
Administration should be required to develop internal "terms of
reference" for Taiwan. What exactly is the "status quo" in the
Taiwan Strait? What is "our" one China policy? If we don't support
Taiwan's continued separation from China--a separation that has
already lasted for 107 of the last 110 years--then why has the
Congress mandated in the Taiwan Relations Act that national policy
is "to maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any
resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize
the security, or the social or economic system, of the people of
Linkage. President Reagan's "permanent imperative" of a
linkage between China's peaceful policy toward Taiwan and our
support for Taiwan's defense, and hence its continued separation
from China, is clearly in America's interests. Therefore, any step
Beijing takes that casts a cloud over its so-called peaceful policy
must be matched by a concomitant U.S. step in support of Taiwan's
the Administration finds it diplomatically inopportune to react to
some act of Chinese bellicosity in the Taiwan Strait, there may
well be instances where a congressional reaction would give the
Administration leverage with Beijing. Beijing's Anti Separation
Law, which Chinese diplomats insist is merely a restatement of
existing Chinese law and policy, could be balanced by new U.S.
legislation--perhaps along the lines of the Taiwan Security
Enhancement Act (H.R. 1838), which passed the House of
Representatives with a veto-proof margin of 341-70 on February 1,
2000. The TSEA, after all, was also a restatement of existing U.S.
policies toward Taiwan.
myself am personally fond of President Reagan's 1982 commitments to
Taiwan's president known as the "Six Assurances." Because they are
already a part of existing U.S. policy, enshrining the "Six
Assurances" in a future House resolution would also be a very
effective counter to future Chinese actions that might challenge
the stability and peace of the Taiwan Strait.
Strategy. The Cheshire Cat's first dictum is that if you
don't know where you're going, any road will get you there. If the
United States has no idea what it wants China or Taiwan to look
like in five years (let alone 10 or 20), then it doesn't matter
what policies it adopts. As Dr. Condoleezza Rice wrote in Foreign
Affairs five years ago, "China is not a `status quo' power but one
that would like to alter Asia's balance of power in its own
assessment makes it absolutely essential that the United States
understand what its own strategic interests, goals, and objectives
are in Asia.
Sadly, there is no such vision guiding
U.S. policy toward China or Taiwan. The Congress should therefore
require one. In particular, the Administration must be attentive to
America's interests in Taiwan. Not only is Taiwan a thriving
democracy, and not only is it America's tenth largest export
market, but Taiwan has also been an important security partner for
the United States.
executive branch must be required to conduct a strategic
survey--confidential if necessary--of U.S. interests in the region
and to consider the possible ramifications to America's strategic
posture in the Western Pacific should Taiwan be forced into a
relationship with China that would preclude continued U.S.
strategic cooperation with Taiwan. Thereafter, policy decisions
regarding China and Taiwan must be made to conform with U.S.
John J. Tkacik, Jr.,
is Senior Research Fellow in Asian Studies in the Asian Studies
Center at The Heritage Foundation. These remarks are adapted from
testimony prepared for delivery at a hearing of the House Committee
on International Relations.