US President George W. Bush gave some unusual talks during his recent Asian trip. China and the US have, at each bilateral summit since the two nations established diplomatic relations, always re-affirmed the three communiques signed between Beijing and Washington. But this time, Bush did not mention the three communiques at all. On the other hand, he repeatedly stressed in Tokyo and Beijing that the US would honor the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA).
During the Cold War, the US did its utmost to seek a balance in its cross-strait policy that was acceptable to both Taiwan and China -- in an effort to align China with itself against the Soviet Union. Although the US Congress passed the TRA after Beijing and Washington established diplomatic ties, overall policy considerations tended to make the US government reluctant to bring up the Act in its dealings with Beijing.
Even former US president Ronald Reagan, who was quite friendly to Taiwan, took the same attitude. After the Soviet Union collapsed, however, an international structure involving "one superpower and many other powers" emerged.
In this new context the US changed its cross-strait policy fundamentally. Former president Bill Clinton -- perhaps the US president who has been most hostile to Taiwan, at least in his oral statements -- was head of state for most of the post-Cold War period to date.
But, in an unprecedented move, Clinton lifted the Act to a status higher than that of the three communiques when he met Chinese President Jiang Zemin (江澤民). He even decided to sell offensive weapons to Taiwan. The US, therefore, had already made fundamental adjustments to its cross-strait policy in the post-Cold War period. Bush's comments this time were just an extension of the adjusted policy, not a revolutionary jump.
In response to Bush's visit, Beijing also softened its attitude. Are these new attitudes the fresh look of the international structure in the post-Cold War period? From China's past behavior patterns, we can see clearly that a new Taiwan policy for changed international conditions has usually been decided on after three steps have been taken: testing, adjustment and conclusion.
Due to the collapse of the Soviet Union, the international structure has completely changed since the beginning of the 1990s. Although the current structure of "one superpower and many other powers" is obvious, China hopes that it might one day be the only one of the "many other powers" that is strong enough to challenge the superpower that is the US.
As a result, the two nations have repeatedly tested each other under the new structure. China, for example, has constantly threatened Taiwan both by the pen and the sword. It even launched military exercises against Taiwan in 1995 and 1996. Meanwhile, the US has expanded its arms sales to Taiwan and sent its aircraft carriers to Taiwan's vicinity in 1996.
But China has gradually recognized the US' role as the world's supreme power after watching it repeatedly take the lead in major international incidents. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the subsequent war against terror have further proved that the leading role played by the US is insuperable.
Meanwhile, since public opinion in Taiwan has gradually become more clear after the nation's last two major elections, China's period of testing the waters of this new post-Cold War era has come to an end.