Fri, May 07, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Mutual understanding is the key

By Nat Bellocchi 白樂崎

The testimony given to the US House International Affairs Committee on April 21 by Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia James Kelly covered a broad range of issues in the US-Taiwan relationship. It seemed to reflect as close to what could be a consensus within the US government on the relationship as one could expect. It made some clear statements on US policy toward some issues, but reverted to ambiguity on others. China, Taiwan, the US Congress, political liberals and political conservatives -- all can find something good and something bad in it, and think tanks can fashion an infinite number of seminars from it. But it will bring new challenges to the US-Taiwan relationship and the need for the right kind of people to address them.

Though it headed in a very different direction, the testimony reminds me very much of that made by John Holdridge, a former assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific, when explaining the August 1982 US-China Communique. Buried in various parts of the testimony was what has come to be known as the "six assurances." Like Kelly's, the testimony was written not only to inform, but also to satisfy a broad readership. Subsequently, the "six assurances," which were not a part of the communique, became stronger -- thanks in large measure to congressional interest -- while expectations for arms sales were eroded by the way statements in the communique were interpreted.

In Kelly's testimony, as one would expect, the "one China policy," defined by the Bush administration as an amalgam of the three communiques and the Taiwan Relations Act, was affirmed. There was an offer to Taiwan to explore how the US could cooperate in spreading Taiwan's democratic experience to other countries, including China. There was also an insistence on peaceful resolution of cross-strait tensions and a reiteration of US commitments should this not be observed. The "six assurances" were again publicly mentioned by the US government and a strong, public statement on support for a bilateral dialogue between China and Taiwan, as soon as possible and "without preconditions," was included.

Of special interest was a separate paragraph about the Dec. 9 meeting between US President George W. Bush and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶). It was meant to make clear that Bush had told Wen the US opposed any change in the status quo by either China or Taiwan. Kelly also added in that paragraph that the commitment made under the Taiwan Relations Act to help defend Taiwan would be fulfilled, but he worried that efforts at deterring Chinese coercion might fail if Beijing was convinced Taiwan would embark on a course toward independence.

The testimony was long and covered economic, military and political issues. The statements in the testimony were for the most part positive for Taiwan, and for those that were not, they were at least frank and clear. There were a few omissions in the testimony -- no reference to the issue of sovereignty, Taiwan's need for international participation or an affirmation of the need for the consent of Taiwanese to change the status quo. The latter is supported by the US, but if advocated using the term "referendum," which means the same thing, it becomes a delicate issue.

On political issues, there was also considerable ambiguity. It is becoming obvious that recent cross-strait issues leading to tensions between the three parties have no clear solutions. The US will increasingly find itself involved in Taiwan's domestic problems -- making judgments on the relative merits of a specific democratic reform versus the potential for military action, for example. This is getting into very delicate and complex matters that the US would normally avoid.

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