April 26, 2002 | Executive Summary on Asia
As Washington prepares for the April 29 arrival of China's heir apparent, Vice President Hu Jintao, the misinformation that beclouds U.S.-China relations should encourage U.S. policymakers to refresh their understandings of the principles that guide U.S. policy toward Taiwan so that their statements will not be taken out of context or assigned a broader meaning than intended.
The friction between Washington and Beijing over U.S. relations with Taiwan has been widely discussed since mid-March after Beijing cancelled some naval exchanges with the United States. By mid-April, however, new U.S.-China military exchanges had started, U.S. naval ship calls at Hong Kong had resumed, and concerns that Beijing would cancel Vice President Hu's visit had dissipated. China's denunciation of the Taiwan defense minister's attendance at a recent business conference in Florida, where he conferred with top U.S. officials, may reflect political imperatives in the run-up to the Chinese Communist Party's Sixteenth Party Congress in six months.
In his diplomatic debut as a key player in Beijing-U.S. policy, Hu is under pressure to keep U.S. relationship with Taiwan from getting firmer. One of his talking points is said to be a demand that Washington at a minimum not bring Taiwan into any security alliance, and he hopes it is an issue on which Washington can reassure him. But the success of his visit will be measured in Beijing by reactions in the Western media. If Hu impresses American audiences as an intelligent, articulate, forward-thinking leader, his political stock will rise at home. If his trip founders on controversy, especially over the Taiwan issue, some in Beijing will argue to keep the putatively more experienced President Jiang Zemin on the scene to handle foreign affairs.
To prepare properly for Hu's visit, Administration and congressional leaders must be fully cognizant of key elements of U.S. policy toward China and Taiwan. Among the most important: the "one-China" policy, which in fact does not recognize Beijing's claims to Taiwan, and the "Three Communiqués," general statements of U.S. positions that are bounded by the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) of 1979, which treats Taiwan as a "country" for the purposes of domestic law. China's military buildup across the Strait has obliged the Bush Administration to abandon a stance of "strategic ambiguity" toward China and Taiwan and has underscored America's determination to protect its important political and economic interests in Taiwan.
The Bush Administration's clarity in the U.S.-China strategic dialogue is a positive development. It informs Beijing that its actions have consequences. If China continues its threatening military buildup across the Strait, U.S. support for the island will strengthen. China can be part of a cooperative effort to secure peace in that important region or, alternatively, can pursue destabilizing military activities that increase Washington's determination to defend its interests in Taiwan and the western Pacific.
Faced with economic and social crises, Beijing should readily acknowledge that the United States is China's most important export market and that solid trade relations with America are vital to economic growth. But for all relations between China and the United States to improve, China must step away from its hostility toward Taiwan and look for peaceful ways to improve relations.
John Tkacik, Jr., is Research Fellow for China, Taiwan, and Mongolia in the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation.