People's Republic of China (PRC) caught the Clinton Administration
by surprise and generated great concern in Congress when it issued
a strongly worded White Paper on relations with Taiwan. That paper,
released on February 21, just days after U.S. officials visited
Beijing, not only adopts a more openly belligerent attitude toward
Taiwan and establishes new criteria for taking military action
against it, but also chastises the United States for selling
defensive arms to Taiwan and cites a
statement made by President Bill Clinton as further justification
of its claims of sovereignty.
Clearly, the White Paper demonstrates that
the escalation of the threat of military action against Taiwan is a
direct consequence of Administration efforts to appease Beijing.
The President's unexpected statement in Shanghai in June 1998,
known as the "three no's," laid out the three principles behind the
Administration's policy toward Taiwan--no to its independence, no
to a "two-China" policy, and no to its membership in any
state-based international organizations.
the Administration can defuse the increasingly tense situation in
the Taiwan Strait by reaffirming America's long-standing commitment
to the democratic Republic of China on Taiwan. It should do so by
publicly clarifying America's support for peaceful resolution of
the reunification question as spelled out in the 1982 "Six
Assurances" to Taiwan.
THE "SIX ASSURANCES"
July 14, 1982, while engaged in negotiating the text of a
communiqué with the PRC on the sale of arms to Taiwan, the
Reagan Administration sought to clarify the policy embodied in the
Taiwan Relations Act of 1979. President Ronald Reagan, taking into
consideration the PRC's statement that its "fundamental policy" was
peaceful reunification, made it clear that America's own policy
would be determined "with this peaceful policy fully in mind." He
conveyed to Taipei a six-point explanation of U.S. policy called
the "Six Assurances."
Specifically, the "Six Assurances" made
clear that the United States:
Had not agreed to set a date for
ending arms sales to the Republic of China on Taiwan;
Had not agreed to hold prior
consultations with the Chinese government on arms sales to the
Republic of China on Taiwan;
Would not play any mediation role
between Taiwan and China;
Had not agreed to revise the 1979
Taiwan Relations Act;
Had not altered its position
regarding sovereignty over Taiwan; and
Would not exert pressure on the
Republic of China on Taiwan to enter negotiations with the People's
Republic of China.
Reagan's "Six Assurances" proved very
effective and allowed the United States to balance its interests in
ensuring Taiwan's security while moving forward in pursuing
harmonious relations with the PRC. Regrettably, President Clinton's
about-face on the last two assurances in his June 1998 "three no's"
statement in Shanghai has upset this equilibrium.
THE "THREE NO'S"
President Bill Clinton surprised the U.S.
foreign policy community, as well as U.S. friends in Taiwan, by
asserting his "three no's" policy on a state visit to Shanghai in
1998. The President clarified this policy to the press:
had a chance to reiterate our Taiwan policy, which is that 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 in any
organization for which statehood is a requirement.
Since 1972, there has been a
well-calibrated agnosticism in official U.S. statements regarding
Taiwan's status. In the Shanghai Communiqué of February
1972, the United States said it "acknowledges that all Chinese on
either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China
and that Taiwan is part of China. The United States does not
challenge that position." The United States did not state any
position of its own.
the January 1, 1979, communiqué transferring U.S. diplomatic
recognition from Taipei to Beijing did not deny the possibility
that the democratic Republic of China on Taiwan was a state. All
communications with Taiwan or Beijing since that communiqué,
and until the "three no's" statement, intentionally used ambiguity
to satisfy the strong differences in positions among all three
President Clinton effectively ended that
ambiguity with his "three no's" statement. As far as the Clinton
Administration is concerned, Taiwan has no identity distinct from
By removing the necessary and calculated ambiguity about Taiwan's
status and sovereignty in U.S. policy and asserting a new policy on
what the Administration would not support, President Clinton
created the perception that the United States' view of cross-Strait
relations had changed. Unfortunately, the potential consequences of
this are grave:
The growing perception in Beijing,
Taipei, and the rest of Asia that U.S. policy has moved closer to
Beijing's definition of the relationship;
An increased confidence in Beijing
that it can openly assert its coercive claims of sovereignty over
Taiwan (demonstrated by the new criteria for military action
spelled out in the White Paper); and
Further uncertainty in Taipei about
America's commitment to Taiwan's security (reflected to some extent
in Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui's "state-to-state" comment earlier
Thus, the President's statement has
seriously affected the cross-Strait relationship and the
policies adopted by Beijing and Taipei, and has resulted in
heightened tension. Beijing's White Paper, for example, is a power
play designed to influence Taiwan's upcoming presidential elections
and force Taipei to participate in reunification talks on Beijing's
Pressure on Taiwan.
In March 1996, after the PRC's test-firing of missiles in the
immediate vicinity of Taiwan's ports, the United States sent two
aircraft carrier battlegroups to the Strait. This was the correct
response to Beijing's provocation, affirming the policy spelled out
in the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act and stated in the "Six
Assurances," but one that caused extreme tension between Washington
and Beijing. Since then, the Administration's actions indicate that
it is focused on getting the two sides to talk to damp down
tensions. After President Jiang Zemin's state visit to Washington
in October 1997, which both countries considered a success, a
steady stream of senior officials of the Clinton Administration
began visiting Beijing and Taiwan, primarily urging Taiwan to show
flexibility and resume dialogue with the mainland.
visitors to Taiwan have included former Defense Secretary William
Perry, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General John
Shalikashvili, and former Assistant Secretary of Defense for
International Affairs Ashton Carter in January 1998. In March 1998,
former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security
Affairs Joseph Nye and former National Security Adviser Anthony
Lake visited Taipei. In February 1999, Perry, Carter, and General
Shalikashvili returned for another visit, accompanied by retired
Admiral Ronald Hayes and former National Security Adviser Brent
Scowcroft. All of these visitors claimed to be speaking in a
private capacity, but it is highly likely that they discussed their
visits in advance with Administration officials and were debriefed
upon their return.
has proposed "a three-part package--either negotiated or carried
out by simultaneous unilateral declarations from Washington,
Beijing and Taipei," in which the United States declares its policy
to be "`one-China' and `no use of force'" and, if Taiwan were to
declare its independence, to state that "we would not recognize or
defend it. Moreover, we would work hard to discourage other
countries from recognizing independence for Taiwan."
return, Beijing would declare that if Taiwan "would now decisively
reject the idea of declaring independence," the PRC "would not
oppose the idea of more international living space for Taiwan."
Meanwhile, Taipei would "explicitly express its decision to
forswear any steps toward independence, to intensify the cross
straits dialogue and to stimulate greater flows of investment and
exchanges of people across the strait." This proposed agreement is
intended to create "a dynamic status quo," which, according to Nye,
could "improve the context of relations between Taiwan and the
mainland in the longer run."
These visits and statements make it appear
that, at least, former high-ranking U.S. officials are pressuring
Taiwan into negotiating with China and implicitly suggest a role
for the United States in mediation efforts. But these actions would
directly call into question the commitments made to Taiwan in the
WHAT WASHINGTON SHOULD DO
China's recent belligerence toward Taiwan
has increased cross-Strait tensions significantly. Taipei is much
less certain of continued U.S. support for its security should
Beijing attempt further intimidation, and the United States has
even found itself the target of thinly veiled threats by the PRC. According to news
articles a few days after it released the White Paper, for example,
China's official military newspaper reportedly remarked that China
"has certain capabilities of launching strategic counter-attack and
the capacity of launching a long-distance strike."
President Clinton's ill-advised statement
in Shanghai on June 30, 1998, was but one of his Administration's
policy missteps in its efforts to develop a "strategic partnership"
with Beijing. Clearly, the White Paper illustrates that the
Administration's conciliatory approach to Beijing's belligerence
toward Taiwan is reaping what it sows. Each attempt at appeasement
is met with more threats. The heightened tensions between the
United States, Taiwan, and Beijing after the White Paper's release
demand an immediate response from Washington.
correct its past missteps, the Administration must reassure Taiwan
that the United States is still committed to a peaceful resolution
of the sovereignty question. To do this, President Clinton should
take the earliest opportunity to publicly restate U.S. policy and
reaffirm the framework for relations so clearly enunciated in the
"Six Assurances." Setting the record straight in this way requires
no special forum. Moreover, the Administration in the future should
carefully adhere to long-standing U.S. policies that safely guided
relations with China and Taiwan for the past two decades.
Specifically, the Administration
Clarify that the United States asserts
no view of its own as to Taiwan's future status, other than to
insist that resolution of the reunification question is arrived at
peacefully, without coercion, and through a process acceptable to
the people of Taiwan.
Clarify its position on a military
response from Beijing. The United States should make it clear
that it will not ignore an unprovoked attack on Taiwan or any
attempt to alter Taiwan's status by military means, as stipulated
in the Taiwan Relations Act. This should be done as soon as
possible in response both to the PRC's latest threats against the
United States and to its arms buildup on the mainland opposite
Whether intentionally or not, the Clinton
Administration has adopted policies toward Taiwan that contradict
the long-standing assurances President Reagan made to the people of
democratic Taiwan and even U.S. law. Taking a position on Taiwan's
status, pressuring Taipei to talk with Beijing on Beijing's terms,
and denying Taiwan's right to membership in state-based
international organizations have only encouraged Beijing's
Unless Washington takes steps to reverse
this policy blunder and reassure America's friends in Taiwan that
the United States will not tolerate such intimidation by China,
more assertions like those in the White Paper will follow.
Dr. Larry M.
Wortzel is Director of the Asian Studies Center at
The Heritage Foundation.