The Heritage Foundation

Executive Summary #1226es on Asia

October 13, 1998

October 13, 1998 | Executive Summary on Asia

BG1226es:  Promoting Freedom and Security in U.S.-TaiwanPolicy

On June 30, in what his advisers described as a "low-key setting," President Bill Clinton surprised many in the United States, and especially in Taiwan, when he decided to summarize publicly his Administration's Taiwan policy while in Shanghai, China: "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."

Although the President and his Administration view this as a restatement or clarification of long-standing U.S. policy, the fact is that the President has changed U.S. policy toward Taiwan. His statement, which outlined a policy called the "Three No's," reflects a pattern of appeasement that is a far cry from March 1996, when the U.S. upheld the terms of the Taiwan Relations Act and sent carriers into the Taiwan Strait to counter China's military maneuvers and landing of missiles off the coast of Taiwan's two most important ports. The Administration's new policies will make conflict with China more likely in the future and undermine U.S. credibility.

U.S. policy toward Taiwan is bound first by legal obligations under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act and secondarily by diplomatic obligations outlined in three joint communiqu├ęs with the People's Republic of China. Each U.S. administration is charged with formulating its own strategy for conducting extensive and friendly unofficial relations with Taiwan under this broad and sometimes ambiguous framework. The Clinton Administration took nearly two years to release its first attempt at Taiwan strategy, called the 1994 Taiwan Policy Review.

In the Taiwan Policy Review, the Clinton Administration declared that top-level Taiwan officials could enter the United States for "transit only" and must not engage in any public activities. This strategy not only placed draconian restrictions on where and with whom Taiwan's "unofficial" representative could conduct government-to-government business, but also declared as a matter of policy that the United States will not support Taiwan's membership in state-based international organizations.

The Administration's new policy led to a crisis in May 1995, when Congress voted almost unanimously to demand that the Administration grant Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui entry into the United States to deliver the commencement address at his alma mater, Cornell University, in June. Beijing responded to President Lee's celebrated commencement address with a nine-month campaign of military intimidation against Taiwan.

Afraid that it had erred in allowing President Lee to enter the United States, thereby incurring Beijing's wrath, the Administration in July 1996 sent National Security Advisor Anthony Lake to Beijing to begin the process of tilting U.S.-China policy toward the PRC. The security of the Taiwan people, who were democratic and friendly to America, would be sacrificed as the Clinton Administration moved from condemnation to appeasement of China.

By appeasing Beijing through policies like silencing Taiwan officials when they go abroad and barring them from private visits to the United States, the Administration invites conflict with both Beijing and Congress. By opposing Taiwan independence and professing non-support for Taiwan's membership in almost every international organization, the Administration risks polarizing Taiwan's domestic politics and provoking the kind of public debate and international activity in Taiwan that both the Administration and Beijing are trying to avoid. The Administration's policy makes the United States an accomplice in Beijing's diplomatic campaign to isolate Taiwan, and it hides Taiwan's fledgling but bright democracy under a bushel--instead of using it as a clear example of what free people can achieve in a Chinese society. Finally, by failing to protect security and promote freedom in Taiwan, the Administration's Taiwan policy runs counter to long-standing U.S. interests in the Asia-Pacific region and violates the spirit, if not the letter, of U.S. law.

To restore clarity and consistency to U.S.-Taiwan policy, the Administration and Congress should make every effort to:

Promote process, not outcomes, in the cross-Strait dispute. The United States should not take a policy position that prejudices the outcome of the standoff between China and Taiwan. It should neither endorse nor oppose Taiwan's independence or reunification with the mainland; but it should insist that any eventual resolution of this conflict come through peaceful means and with the consent of the people of Taiwan.

Distinguish between long-term obligations and short-term Administration policy. To avoid miscalculation and miscommunication with Taipei and Beijing, the Administration should make clear to both governments which aspects of U.S.-Taiwan policy constitute binding long-term obligations and which reflect the Administration's own interpretation of how best to implement those obligations.

Deter Beijing's military aggression. The United States must recognize that China's military modernization efforts and willingness to use force to impose its will on Taiwan are the primary sources of danger and instability in the Taiwan Strait. Adequate deterrence, specified in the Taiwan Relations Act, is the best guarantee against military intimidation or attack.

Promote Taiwan's democracy in China and abroad. If the United States is to have any credibility in advocating democracy on the Chinese mainland, it must properly recognize and reward the Taiwan people for their success in establishing a democracy in their republic.

If the Administration wishes to avoid military conflict in the Taiwan Strait, it must shelve the restrictive recommendations in its Taiwan Policy Review and faithfully implement the spirit and the letter of the Taiwan Relations Act. Only when the United States resolves to deter aggression and promote democracy will the 50-year standoff in the Taiwan Strait be likely to find peaceful resolution with the consent of the Taiwan people.

--Stephen J. Yates is former China Policy Analyst in The Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation.

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