Mon, Dec 29, 2003 - Page 8 News List

The pillars of the US' Taiwan policy

By Nat Bellocchi 白樂崎

The present US administration says its policy on cross-strait relations is based on the three communiques and the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA). As a demonstration of how unbalanced US policy was in the past, the current inclusion of the TRA with the three communiques is a step forward for those of us who suffered its omission for so many years. (The six assurances, one hopes, will one day also be included).

So much for greater clarity. Under that broad cover, the US insists on a peaceful resolution of the cross-strait issue, and encourages dialogue between the two sides of the Strait. It opposes provocations (mostly on the part of Taiwan, it's an easier target), and any movement toward independence (only by Taiwan, but otherwise it is opaque). Most importantly, the US now places greatest emphasis on maintaining the status quo and opposing any unilateral change to it.

Under that cover, clarity becomes somewhat diluted. An insistence on a peaceful resolution, for example, is clear and supported on all sides. That is if we are talking about a military attack. According to press reports, the US has made clear to China that any military attack or coercion will inevitably "involve" the US. Coercion, however, is a bit more complicated and not easily handled by the US.

Encouraging a dialogue between China and Taiwan is a good objective most would agree with. Unfortunately, China does not agree, unless of course results favorable to them are guaranteed. In any event, American efforts to interfere in Taiwan's moves toward a more distinct entity of its own, or in strengthening its democratic political system, even with no more a purpose than to lower tensions, undermines the pressure on China to talk.

Opposition to provocations is normally thought to include both sides of the Strait. Realistically, however, it falls mainly on Taiwan. China defines provocative actions by Taiwan very broadly. Now increasingly this includes domestic political changes in Taiwan that are fundamental to democratic principles. Taiwan just recently began to publicly evoke charges that China's missile deployments are provocative. While Washington sees this mostly as an election campaign gimmick, it also has a purpose in alerting the Taiwanese public to threats they have tended to ignore.

More recently, under pressure from China, the US has stated its opposition to any movements toward independence by Taiwan. This came at a time when Taiwan was legislating the use of referendums.

Aside from this position held by China, trying to judge what constitutes a "movement toward independence" is hardly clear. China, for example, will consider any referendum or changes to Taiwan's constitution as provocative. In principle, that should be unacceptable to the US. It appears to be a policy that could cause problems for the US, and Taiwan as well.

We have been told on several occasions that one of the pillars of US policy regarding the cross-strait issue is that there must be no unilateral change to the status quo.

Status quo, according to the dictionary, means "the existing state or condition" (Random House), or "the state in which anything is" (Webster). The state in which we find the broad issue of cross-strait relations is awesome. Here are some of the elements of today's status quo in the Taiwan Strait.

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