On the 30th anniversary of former US president Richard Nixon's historic visit to China, President George W. Bush visited Beijing last week for a summit meeting with Chinese President Jiang Zemin (江澤民).
Nixon said his arrival in China on Feb. 21, 1972, began "a week that changed the world." During that week Nixon and his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, engaged in intensive discussions with chairman Mao Zedong (毛澤東) and premier Zhou Enlai (周恩來). This was the first meeting between the leaders of the US and the PRC and it had a significant impact on the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union. Even more importantly, the international roles of Taiwan and the PRC began a reversal. The release of the Shanghai Communique not only led to the severance of diplomatic ties between the US and Taiwan but also resulted, in the long term, in the "three nos" policy.
This has remained a most painful chapter in history for the people of Taiwan. Because of what happened, Taiwan has had to fight for diplomatic survival in the cracks left by two powerful countries, the US and China.
While visiting Japan and South Korea last week, Bush did not forget to emphasize the importance of the US Asia-Pacific allies and the region's security, as well as to reiterate that Taiwan is a "good friend" of the US. But this is all part of Bush's global anti-terrorism strategy, under which the US is seeking support from South Korea in opposing North Korea. The US also hopes to strengthen US-Japan cooperation and bring Taiwan into its ambit with a view to consolidating US power in the Asia-Pacific region.
But the Bush administration must stay on good terms with China to maintain its support. Los Angeles Times reporter James Mann said in his book About Face that Washington's China policy has been oscillating between idealism and realism since Nixon. Three decades ago, Nixon pitched his nostrum to Zhou as he sought a rapprochement with China. Later, Bill Clinton, when president, delinked human-rights issues from economics and granted China permanent normal trading rights with the US. The Bush administration has been seeking common ground with China to further its interests in the international arena. In international relations, there are no permanent enemies, only permanent interests.
Although Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs had trumpeted oft-repeated US assurances about Taiwan, the nation remained concerned. Fortunately, Bush repeated his support for the Taiwan Relations Act.
During the Bush-Jiang meeting, both sides tried to avoid the dispute over Taiwan. But Jiang did say that he regarded the Taiwan issue as key to the stability of US-China ties. Their discussions had no demonstrable impact on US-Taiwan ties, but Taiwan, which has long depended on the US for protection, should evaluate the new international strategies of the US. In particular, arms sales may enhance Taiwan's self-defense capabilities, but they should not be viewed as a US security guarantee. Indeed, over-emphasis on the sales will result in military competition, possibly leading to clashes within the Asia-Pacific region. As cross-strait relations continue to stagnate, simply underscoring the significance of the US channel might place a further obstacle on the path to the resumption of dialogue and negotiations between the two sides.