China's recent rhetorical assault on
Taiwan is a tutorial for the Clinton Administration on one
important principle: You reap what you sow. Administration
officials were shocked that, less than 24 hours after the State
Department's latest peace mission to China, Beijing unleashed a
lengthy White Paper that harshly criticizes Taiwan's democratic
leaders, changes the terms under which Beijing will use military
force against Taiwan, and uses President Clinton's own words to
justify this coercion. But this latest provocation should come as
no surprise. It is the inevitable result of the Administration's
Beijing's diatribe should be recognized
for what it is--a power play designed to disrupt Taiwan's March 18
presidential election, intimidate the U.S. Senate as it considers a
bill to enhance Taiwan's security, and force Taipei into
unification talks on Beijing's terms alone. To justify its assault
on Taiwan's freedom and U.S. interests, China repeatedly cites the
Clinton Administration's recognition of Beijing's "one-China"
policy, its opposition to Taiwan's self-determination, and its lack
of support for Taiwan's membership in international organizations.
China senses weakness in Washington and will keep pushing as long
as the President continues to play their game.
The Administration's "One-China"
The "one-China" concept perhaps had some utility over the years in
helping China, Taiwan, and the United States to move forward on
issues of common concern and interest. Progress was achieved since
President Richard Nixon's historic visit to China precisely because
no side imposed a definition of "one-China" on the other. The
moment one side imposes meaning on the "one-China" framework, it
falls apart--hindering cross-Strait relations. China's 11,000 word
White Paper is all about imposing its definition of "one-China" on
Taiwan and the United States. For this reason alone, the United
States should reject the terms of this paper.
Careful word choice matters because U.S.
leaders have been duped into becoming Beijing's pawns in its war of
words with Taiwan. A seemingly innocuous statement like "the United
States has a one-China policy" is taken by Beijing as U.S.
recognition of Beijing's claim that Taiwan is a part of the
People's Republic of China. Beijing then uses the "one-China"
policy to protest defensive arms sales to Taiwan and to isolate
Taiwan internationally. Alone and overwhelmed, Taiwan is then
expected to negotiate unification with China.
Regrettably, President Clinton has gone
beyond using Beijing's "one-China" slogan to adopt significant
elements of its "one-China" policy. On June 30, 1998, while in
Shanghai, the President said, "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 international
organization for which statehood is a requirement." These "three
no's" have always been Beijing's policy, but no U.S. President had
ever publicly endorsed them, much less on Chinese soil. In the
White Paper, China gleefully cites the President's concession as an
implicit endorsement of its "one-China" policy. The Clinton
Administration claimed that the President's statement in Shanghai
was nothing new and no big deal. But it obviously mattered to
Time to Undo Past Mistakes.
Washington should realize that "one-China" is the goal of
Beijing, but not of U.S. policy. Since President Nixon, U.S. policy
has been to respect China's peaceful pursuit of its "one-China"
goal. The United States did not recognize Taiwan as being a part of
the People's Republic of China, did not endorse the use of force to
make it so, and did not adopt "one-China" as a policy
Intellectual laziness has led U.S.
officials to speak of an American "one-China" policy. Because the
United States recognizes only one legal government of China, many
officials mistakenly adopt Beijing's jargon and reinforce its view
that the United States considers Taiwan to be a part of the
People's Republic of China. Beijing, in its White Paper and
elsewhere, uses U.S. adherence to the "one-China policy" as
justification for coercing Taiwan to the negotiating table, or
worse. Before another Administration official again speaks of a
"one-China" policy or principle, he should consider whether he
really wants to be a party to this coercion.
Return to U.S. Interests.
China's power play must not go unanswered. Instead of allowing
Beijing to continue putting words in his mouth, the President must
change the terms of debate on Taiwan issues. To restore focus on
U.S. interests, Washington should:
Publicly reassure Taiwan.
The President must make up for his Shanghai "three no's" mistake
by reassuring Taiwan publicly that America has not adopted
Beijing's position regarding sovereignty over Taiwan, will not
withhold needed defensive arms, and will not pressure Taipei to
enter into negotiations with Beijing. President Ronald Reagan's
"six assurances" to Taiwan in 1982 should be his guide.
Enhance Taiwan's Security.
The Senate should proceed with consideration of the Taiwan
Security Enhancement Act to assure Taiwan's people that they can
exercise their democratic franchise, confident that China's
coercion is not going unnoticed or unchecked by the United States.
This would also remind Beijing that the United States never agreed
to compromise Taiwan's security in the course of developing
diplomatic relations with China.
Stop using the "one-China"
U.S. officials should simply describe interests and U.S. policy,
recognize Beijing as China's government, and acknowledge Beijing's
goal of peaceful unification. Moreover, the United States should
insist on peace.
After reading China's White Paper, the
Clinton Administration should realize the folly of its loose use of
Beijing's slogans and its endorsement of Beijing's policy on
Chinese soil. The belligerence expressed in the White Paper is the
fruit of President Clinton's casual rhetorical concessions. This
should be a reminder to Washington that power is the motivation,
means, and end of Beijing's policies. China's power play must not
go unchecked. Washington must resolve to deter Beijing's aggression
or be prepared for more of the same.
Stephen J. Yatesis a former Senior
Policy Analyst in the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage